Advent: The starts and stops of waiting

The progress has been moving through stages of starts and stops for weeks now.

Stage 1: It's time! We're going to do the house project!... Wait for weeks while the contractor goes through the back and forth of getting a permit from what is apparently a very picky city office.

Stage 2: Wow! Look at that! A whole segment of our house was just torn down in a matter of hours!... Wait for what seems like forever for the late fall rains to stop so the ground will be stable enough for digging.

Stage 3: Hooray! They are digging the foundation!... Wait for the cement workers to have an opening to build the walls... wait for the city to come inspect the stability... wait for the walls to be fortified before filling the dirt back in... Oh, and wait for the rain again. Walk out the door to a huge dirt/mud pile sitting in the driveway for the entirety of this stage.

Stage 4: Look at that! They are building walls!

The temptation now, in the progress of this stage, is to forget the stops that will come after this start. There is such obvious movement now. After all, framing is actually a pretty fast process of house building, relatively speaking. But there are sure to be more weather events out of our control, or delays because of the holidays. There are also times coming where the work being done, like running electrical lines, is important, but more hidden.

What will be tempting next, in the waiting of this stage, will be to forget the progress that will come after the delays . 

Waiting is not static. It runs through cycles of hope and despair, forward movement and frustrating stillness. We anguish that the quiet stage we are is the place we will die, never seeing the end of the wait. We get pulled onto the momentum train, wishing for the wait to end sooner than is possible.

This is the struggle of Advent. Christ has already come, and yet, Christ is still coming. We celebrate God's redemptive work in ourselves and in friends who have found new futures we wouldn't have thought possible. We learn about the systematic injustices pushing people down and wonder how we might ever start to climb out of this pit. We see a beautiful sunset and marvel at a God who takes our breath away. We see death and pain and sorrow and sickness and lament to a God who seems too inactive. Already and not yet. Our faith cycles through times of feeling either word more tangibly than the other.

That's what waiting feels like. That's what Advent feels like.

I wonder if this Christmas, we can let ourselves feel both. Experiencing the joy of celebration does not mean we are callous to the pain of oppression. Lamenting the brokenness of a  messed up world does not mean we have to forfeit the simple pleasures of playful presents and delicious food. 

What helps me bear the starts and stops waiting is not ignoring the feelings of either, but by releasing my grip on the outcome. There is so much of life that is beyond my control, weather patterns being chief among them. No matter what I do, I cannot make the end come at a certain time or in a particular way. So holding the process with tight-fisted stubbornness does me no good.

The best I can do is to be fully me, to rest where I should, to engage where I can, and to let things unfold as they will. And to pray, pray, pray to a God who is good and trustworthy.

Wherever life finds you this Advent, I hope you can do the same.

Singing about the breaking point

The breaking point.  

It comes at different times and various places, but most of us reach it at some point in our lives. The feelings of anguish, grief, and I-just-can’t-take-it-anymore frustration burst out of us.

 

A rant, a sob, the violent brushstrokes of tortured art- somehow or another, an outlet must be found before we choke on that which we can no longer keep down.

 


 

psalm 74The people of Israel reached the breaking point.

 

The Promised Land never really was the paradise they expected. There seemed to be a “but God, didn’t you say?” question with each battle and each disappointment that came their way. Their leaders waxed and waned in their faithfulness to Yahweh, which led to cycles of idol worship, sin, battles, and repentance among the people.

 

But still, God seemed with them. For them. Still leading them to a time that would be different.

 

Yet at the end of the tunnel, they didn’t find light. They found destruction. A take-over by an enemy people who destroy their sacred temple and lead them away to exile.

 

They reached the breaking point.

 

Asaph’s response was to write Psalm 74.

 

For awhile, this Psalm dances on the sharp edges between anger and despair, the quiet pleading of someone who has been shattered by life.

 

O God, why have you rejected us forever? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?  - Psalm 74:1

We are given no signs from God;     no prophets are left,     and none of us knows how long this will be. How long will the enemy mock you, God?     Will the foe revile your name forever? – Psalm 74:9-10

 

Then, in strange contrast, the words make turn. The song marches on into a tribute to God’s faithfulness.

 

But God is my King from long ago; he brings salvation on the earth. – Psalm 74:12

 

You are the King. You bring salvation.  It was you who split the sea. It was you who created this earth. It was you.

 

I wonder if these words were sung through gritted teeth. What does praise in the midst of splintered emotion sound like? I hear him shouting, “It was you who did these great things! I think I still believe that, somewhere underneath this rubble. Yet that makes me wonder all the more… where are you now?!?”

 

God, where are you now, when I am at my breaking point?

 

Rise up, O God, and defend – Psalm 74:22

 

Help me. Please. I am broken and desperate and buried in my misery and need you. Rise up from wherever you are hidden.

 


 

Sometimes I forget that the Psalms are a sort of hymnal, recorded in the words of the Holy Scriptures.

 

These are words that would have been sung by the people when they gathered together for worship.

 

This breaking point Psalm would have been sung together by the people of Israel, years after they returned from exile.

 

Their hymnody, their liturgy, their songs of praise to their God, chose to remember the bad along with the good. The lyrics were complex and raw and aching with the reality of life.

 


 

I wonder what would happen if our modern worship songs reflected the kind of heartache that echoes in the Psalms. What if we chose to sing about the times God let us down right before singing about the 10,000 reasons we have to praise Him?

 

I wonder what they would feel like to a visitor, walking in off the street, wondering if church is worth it, if the people can be trusted with his pain. Would the accessibility of those songs bring some relief to his heavy heart?

 

What if our worship became a place of hope for the broken? What if our songs projected the hope that we are a people who have experienced loss and are ready to walk in the mess beside those who are in pain?

 

It seems to me there is value in singing about our breaking points as much as we sing about our highlights. Maybe that is a lesson the Psalms are meant to teach us.

 


 

That is my reflection on Psalm 74. Please link up below with your own thoughts, and read the words of others. Then join us next week for Psalm 75.