Confession: Black Friday, Small-Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday are all in the books for this year. And my Christmas tree still isn’t up.
This is primarily due to my new normal with heart failure. I used to spend weeks decorating, including three trees and a ridiculous number of seasonal touches in every room. Lately though, Christmas decorating has become a little sparse. I am dependent on others like never before. But deep inside, I may also be on a mission to slow down the Christmas hoopla.
It is, after all, still November.
My mother waited until well into December to put up her tree, and it was perfect. With four children, a farm, and a business in town, we still had time to make decorated cookies, set up the nativity with fresh cut greenery, and send out handwritten Christmas cards. But somehow I don’t think that would fly today. As a society, we seem to start earlier and earlier.
Many years in my not-so-distant past I would get the Christmas décor out of the attic as I was returning the Halloween costumes. I didn’t fully appreciate the sentiment of that wedged-in November holiday. And it was reflected not only in my agenda planner, but also in my faith.
Just as I attempted to go from trick-or-treating straight to Christmas Eve, I wanted to go from a quick thank-you to established joy. What I didn’t realize is that I needed to experience a full season of gratitude before I was ready to embrace the joy. I couldn’t yet comprehend that it was November’s gratitude that allowed me to truly see December’s joy.
But what exactly is joy?
The dictionary says joy is the feeling of possessing what one desires. Author John Piper says joy is much more than that. Joy is the soul-sighting of Christ in the world.
Joy is our soul seeing Christ in the unexpected. In food, in nature, in the laundry room, in the courtroom. And in finding Christ in the everyday, we set bricks of gratitude in the fortress of joy to protect our souls from this harsh life. But it takes time.
Growing up on a wheat farm, I learned a little about waiting for the fruit of your labor. We sowed the crop in September, but harvest didn’t come until June. We spent most of every year waiting for the stalks to bear fruit. Seeing nothing in those wheat heads all winter, but praying that the yearly miracle would once again produce the summer fruit.
Soul-sightings of joy are like that. They cannot be rushed. To truly see them requires grit and broken-in grace.
That dark Thanksgiving season three years ago, impatience clouded my vision of gratefulness, and blocked my joy. From my journal:
Last night the nurses rushed in constantly with the crash cart. I started having vision problems and they checked to see if I had had a stroke. So now I get twice daily Lovenox shots to the belly (to ward off blood clots). My husband endearingly calls them “cracker jacker stings.” I am a grown woman crying, begging to not get those shots.
This week has been a blur of nurses, doctors, tests, heart monitors, shock pads, injections, PICC lines, IVs and a constant stream of visitors. I haven’t been allowed to take shower for 6 days because they are afraid my heart will stop, and they don’t want me off the defibrillator pads for even a few minutes. I just want to go home and for all of this to be over. Miserable day, cried most of the night.
Just days later, although it felt like weeks, I wrote this in my journal:
Time in the hospital gives time to reflect. I am thankful for so many who have reached out to help us, and to pray. And thankful for Chamber Choir performing their Noel concert in the hospital chapel for me. But I feel cheated that I couldn’t feel the joy I should have. All I can think about right now is getting back to my life and wondering if I ever will.
In Psalm 30, David says there may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning. There may need to be pain borne by a steadfast grateful heart for deep joy to be born. It starts by saying it when you’re not feeling it, not understanding it, not seeing it.
Piercing those dark moments with thankful words carried by grace. Waiting for joy. Like the desperate world waiting for a Savior.
Turns out I needed that season of giving thanks, dry thanks, before I could appreciate the joy in my very human circumstance. Finally, from my journal nearly a year later:
We have been so very blessed throughout this journey and while it has been the most difficult year of my life, I am so grateful that God entrusted me to walk through it with Him. It has been life-altering and faith-affirming in a way I’m not sure anything else could be.
Advent is the season of our soul searching for its ultimate desire, our joy. Our searching for Christ in our mortal existence. When we find Him here with us, we are grateful. And we are on our way to joy.
Then we can live in this joy, regardless of what happens.
Soon my tree will be decorated and this season of gratefulness will step aside for the season of joy. But even as you say goodbye to November and flip your calendar and mind to December, cling to gratitude through Advent in preparation for your own soul-sighting of Christ.
Your life is not much different than mine. We all live a series of thousands of tiny miracles. The trick is to notice them. The seed of ordinary thankfulness, watered by God’s grace, can sprout into a life of gratitude. And that life will eventually bear the fruit of unhindered joy.
If only we can see Him. And wait.