Surprise

In my outdoor storage closet sit six containers of Christmas decorations: a tall tree, a set of Alpine trees, a set of wreathes, a box of ornaments, a box of miscellaneous décor, and a box containing my Christmas village. For the most part, everything gets used. I’ve donated or gotten rid of the excess. The lids fit easily on each bin and I can lift them without help or strain.

Yet somehow it all feels wrong.

Every Advent I crave slowness. I long for a December that feels slow and sacred rather than rushed and material. I want my church experiences and home décor to reflect this attitude.

Cole and I are out of town with my parents for Advent One. St. Nicholas visits church on Advent Two to collect presents for five hundred plus families. Advent Three is the Christmas pageant which is an exercise is adorable chaos. Advent Four and Christmas Eve fall on the same Sunday. (Otherwise known as clergy get tired day.) And then we arrive at Christmas. In the midst of all this is work and teaching and mothering and appointments and decorating and cleaning and all the daily-ness of life.

Time moves faster than it did when I was child. And God moves slower.

There remain a few large, unanswered prayers in my life. A handful of major stressors waiting to be worked out. I know from past experience that all will unfold in God’s time – which while excruciatingly slow, is always perfect. I know in my bones that despite my habit of calendaring answers nothing will occur when or how I plan.

How is it that I crave slowness yet grumble and grow despondent about how long God seems to take to answer prayer?

When Cole was an infant people used to say to me, “Enjoy this. The days may be long, but the time is short.” This is so very true. He’s three and a half now and thriving. The world is his playground; his imagination the map. He has a running commentary on everything.

How is it that I yearn to savor our life together but am often counting through the time blocks of my day, desperate for the moments when Cole is at school or asleep and I can find a little peace and quiet?

According to a friend, there are four answers to prayer: yes, no, not yet, and boy are you going to be surprised. She also says, “God does not speak in code.” So much of the waiting time in prayer feels like an exercise in translation. I suppose this is where attention and discernment come in.

When I’m paying attention some answers to prayer feel obvious and clear. I know this because my body exhales and my interior looks like a beam of light. This is the same feeling I get when I surrender. Truly surrender my calendar, my plans, my assumptions, my expectations and just exist in the current of the moment, trusting the unfolding.

In a small but important way my prayer for a slow and sacred December was answered by our church holding meditative Eucharist and conversation on Wednesdays at noon and 7pm throughout Advent. As of today, I can attend two of the four and that alone brings a little breathing space.

I just talked to my mom and she said she has a few Christmas trimmings we can put up with Cole when we’re there later this week, which answers a prayer to feel connected to something meaningful in decoration. Perhaps this small act will help me feel more inspired by and grateful for the ways I can adorn my own home.

So that’s two prayers answered. Directly.

I continue to wait on the rest. The big ones. The ones I know God has promised to answer.

And this is what Advent is all about. Waiting. Living each day as it comes and trusting in the hope of an answered prayer. The answer found in a baby conceived out of wedlock, placed in a manger, in a dirty stable, surrounded by farm animals.

Boy were we surprised.

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