Greetings! Week one of advent is here! Which means I’ve been half-meditating on hope and half-meditating on what my kids need to have in order to participate in their school’s 12 Days of Christmas celebration in which every school day between now and December 16 is a DRESS UP DAY.
I’m not going to do some magical turn of phrase to connect those two things. You know as well as I do that not every aspect of Capitalist Christmas has a Jesus-tie in. Some of it is just chaos. But here we are in our gingerbread onesies and our drum major hats, doing Christmas, and if I’m being honest, actually feeling hopeful.
When I asked the kids what hope meant to them, they told me that hope was when something is really difficult, but you keep going, because you know someone is going to help you. I love that. I love the weight and the waiting inherent in their hope. They made room for struggle and agency and relationships. Theologically we know that hope is God. God is that help that is never far off. But how does God work? Does God buy my books? Does God pick up the kids from school? No. God works, damnit, through people.
I fought for a long time to not have to depend on anyone. It was very uncomfortable to me not to be able to meet all my own needs, or even my own wants. When I set a goal, I don’t like needing other people to determine whether or not I reach it. And I got there, in a lot of ways. But the most independent years of my life—the years when I was hustling hard and trying not to owe anybody anything— have also felt the most hopeless.
I was doing it! Nobody owned me!
And all I had to look forward to was more hustle, more strategizing, more work. I didn’t want to ask for help, because I wasn’t sure what I could offer in return. I didn’t want to take any risks, because I had staked my reputation on being able to do it all. The only reason people sought me out, I told myself, was for my competence. So, by my kids definition of hope, I had the struggle, I had the perseverance, but I didn’t feel that hope-energy, because help was not on the way. I had told hope to leave me alone.
Instead of hopeful, I had dread. Every little hiccup was terrifying. I dreaded school pickup and backpacks full of new-effort-required. I dreaded edits. I dreaded phone calls. It would be people wanting things, criticizing things, exposing the fact that I actually wasn’t doing well enough on my own. For years, I have been a study in how to have it all and somehow not enjoy it.
This year has been different. This year, I owned my limits and invested in friendships. With less of me hustling there was room for friends. I invested some key friendships, with people I trust. With friends in my corner I felt better taking risks. Work risks and emotional risks. I also owned my limits in my marriage, and risked asking for more help with the domestic things that were dragging me under. And I finally don’t feel anxious and afraid every time our kids have a bad day, or the school decides to have 12 DRESS UP DAYS IN DECEMBER.
All that limit setting and space making and people trusting has paid off in that last, critical piece of hope: God became flesh, and that’s still how God sends help. Help is on the way.
What you will find in these newsletter-style blog posts:
Brain kindling to start your mind fire
Spirit kindling to start your heart fire
Conversation kindling to gather people to your fire
Giggle kindling to warm you up.
First, I commend to you this very challenging Unsettling Advent guide from Word & Way.
Then, as Hope-themed chaser:
Top 5 Advent Season Traditions I Actually Enjoy (there used to be none, because I
- The annual Love Actually viewing with eggnog
- Hot chocolate neighborhood lights walk
- Sending the kids to the Christmas Craft Extravaganza with my mother in law
- Drinking eggnog while not viewing love actually
- Advent wreaths