This holiday season has been another period of change for me. Change, even hard and wrenching change, felt appropriate in Advent — the part of change that involves waiting and wondering about how things are going to pan out, what is going to the next window to open in my life, what I can let that change do in me.
It seems like my twenties, and the twenties of somewhere between many and all people, are characterized by the constant whirlpool of change. The swiftly churning waters of my twenties have stripped away parts of me I didn’t need, even though I thought I did, and each time, I have been left a bit more raw and vulnerable, but what Charybdis has left me is a deeper understanding of what matters to me and who I am. I didn’t realize how much there is to me that I didn’t know five years ago. It is a bit thrilling that I still have (hopefully) decades and decades left to be winnowed to the core of my identity even more. And the outer layers of my identity being stripped away has not made me simpler or easier to understand or more loveable in a snuggly way. Knowing what I am, who I am, how I am can make things inconvenient. Inconvenient for me because there is no more hiding big pieces of myself. Inconvenient for others because they can no longer create a façade of who they want me to be.
Most people don’t like dealing with things that are inconvenient. The grocery store, exercising, commuting, church, the dentist. And people. Loving people is easy when it’s convenient. Loving people while dealing a death or an illness or war or the truly horrible challenges is sometimes easier to imagine – united in suffering. Loving when it is inconvenient is looking at someone askance and rolling your eyes and loving them anyway. Loving someone when it is inconvenient probably includes driving to your in-laws for Christmas with a sick kid – and it’s snowing. I imagine parenting a teenager involves a lot of loving when it’s inconvenient. Long distance relationships are hard from the beginning because the first thing they strip away from your relationship is convenience. That inconvenience scares a lot of people off from getting to the harder parts at all.
I don’t think a lot of twenty somethings want to love inconveniently. Loving unconditionally gets you props. Loving inconveniently is not as romantic or exciting.
Warning: Religion Ahead
I usually look at Advent and Christmas and the Incarnation as a story of unconditional love. And it is. There are plenty of sources for that. But this year for me, being loving and joyful about Christmas feels pretty inconvenient. The timing just isn’t right for me to feel that way. Advent was great. I was reflective and thought about Mary saying “FIAT” to change that is so incredibly far beyond any change in my life. I was receiving the Blessed Is She emails and for the first time ever, keeping up (mostly) with the daily mass readings. It was great. I thought about how change is a burden of this world that I need to stop trying to carry, to take on the easy yoke and the light burden of Christ. And it was great to think about humbling myself and finding the glory of God in the smallness of life. To think about. In practice, a lot of that is inconvenient.
And a lot of the Christmas story is about inconvenient love. Mary, early in pregnancy, traveling to visit and serve Elizabeth? Inconvenient. Elizabeth, late in pregnancy, hosting a young cousin? Inconvenient (even though it was Mary). Being pregnant, unwed, and having to explain? Inconvenient. Traveling and not being able to find a bed for your young, pregnant wife? Inconvenient. Having a baby in a stable is way more than inconvenient, though.
Incarnation is not convenient, but it is joyful and awe-filled. Joy and awe don’t require happiness or convenience, but they demand we rejoice. And rejoicing even when sorrowful is possible, but oh-so-challenging.
Rejoicing always sounds great in the Christmas season, but honestly, I just don’t feel like it. I feel like feeling crummy. But rejoicing always isn’t an idea, it’s a command: “for this is God’s will for you.” All of the Advent readings remind us that we have the capacity to love always in humility and inconvenience. Just a week ago, we heard in the same moment: “Look to him that you may be radiant with joy” AND “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted.” It is both. We are broken and joyful. It is often inconvenient. It’s nearly impossible sometimes. I’m going to try.
All of the inconveniences of loving pale when I think about what Christmas actually is. The lightness and sweetness of the holiday sometimes masks for me the unfathomable awe-power-humility-mystery that I confront when I actually consider the Incarnation. Emmanuel, God-With-Us. As Father Jim Martin reminded me/us in his Instagram greeting, Jesus is not just entering the world in first century Palestine, but also in the second coming, BUT ALSO in our daily lives. It can be literally unbelievable. And a lot of people don’t believe it. They don’t have to. It really is super inconvenient a lot of the time. But for me, this Christmas, believing that is where the joy is. Where the rejoicing is. I might not be having the happiest or merriest Christmas ever, but dammit, I’m feeling joyful.