Most of us have asked ourselves this in the past. In fact, some might even be asking it now. With all of the” Ho Ho Ho and Mistle Toe” and “Tis the Season to be Jolly” going on around us, why we do feel out of sorts and just plain miserable inside? Isn’t it supposed to be the season of giving and spreading good cheer where family and friends gather with all sort of warm fuzzy things going on? Aren’t we supposed to get that “thing” that we have always wanted? Aren’t we being pleasantly surprised by the ones who love us the most?
However in the midst of all of the good cheer, some are suffering through some very tough stuff. Like loss of job, dealing with chronic pain, death of a loved one, loneliness, problems with going in moderation with the spiked eggnog…the list could go on and on as to why someone might not be feeling so well inside (or unrealistically too well!).
Well the reality of the situation is that Advent is the season of Hope and that of waiting for Jesus. It is kind of like a mini story of our lives, isn’t it?
“We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.” (From NAB, Romans 8:22-25).
Waiting is a joyful thing. But it is not necessarily a happy or pleasant thing. It involves longing for something or someone. And if you have ever waited for something or someone that you really wanted, you know how very much it can be painful. It can be a state of waiting for relief. But joy is a spiritual quality and very often coexists as a twin to sorrow. In fact, a person could be in the midst of severe trials and be filled with great joy.
So our lives may be falling apart around us and the season of Christmas is once again upon us. As my sister likes to say, “Life is what it is.” It comes with all of its problems and suffering no matter what is going on. But this is where Hope comes into place. Hope is essentially holding on to the possibility that the promises of God are true. And God gives us some really great promises, like in today’s Scripture readings:
“Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, my love shall never leave you nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says the LORD, who has mercy on you” (Isaiah 54:10).
You know, I have often thought about those “shaking hills”.
In my studies of psychology I learned that one factor that is a high predictor of suicide is when a person loses hope. Unfortunately, many of us rely on our feelings and our perceptions of the moment to determine and measure our hope. I do have to qualify that there are times in a person’s life when they might be experiencing extreme feelings of sadness even not out of their own fault. Such can be the result of a biological imbalance or even stress can produce chemicals in the brain which might induce depression. On the other hand, there can be times when life is just plain crappy and we have to make the best of it.
But the truth of the matter is that hope and true joy comes from being able to embrace our sufferings rather than fleeing from them. Actually in the Catholic tradition, suffering has significant spiritual value and actually can lead to great sanctity. Our Savior carried the Cross to give us the example of the path of trials, not sparing even Himself. This stance is also promoted by the Existential approach to psychology. In essence, sufferings and difficulties in our lives serve to help us grow and progress along our journey. So rather than avoiding stress – we should take it face on. It makes us stronger. Some of us could be body builders by now! Think of all of those tough times going to waste! And most of us don’t have to pray for suffering. It comes to us naturally. For me, even something like paying taxes can bring about a state of mortification.
Sounds just like taking up our Cross, doesn’t it? But isn’t that a Lent message? Does life with all of its challenges stop because of the time of the year? It would be nice if it did. But I recall that St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary had a ton of problems to deal with before Jesus was even born. And as Christ is being born in our hearts, is it any different?
Tis the Season of Joy. It truly is.