Embracing failure in Advent

Every year, Christmas comes. It may find me kicking and screaming, curled up in the corner frantically wrapping and sweating and wondering how it happened to come so fast. In fact, it too often does.

And what of Advent, then? Well, those are the years when Advent is a nice idea, something that other people do. You know the people, the perfect Catholics. The ones with perfectly dressed children. The ones whose husbands do laundry. The ones who are organized.

I used to subscribe to looking at Advent as a mini-Lent, a preparation for a big feast and a time of penance and sacrifice. Now, however, Advent has become something beautifully little. For me, the joy of Advent has been not in the lack, not in the silence, not in the anticipation. Because, I’ve found, there’s not much of any of those. During Advent, the world is rolling in nauseous excess and noise.

During my first pregnancy, I was very pregnant during Advent. It seemed fitting, for in her wisdom, the Church has given us a pregnancy to kick things off at the beginning of the liturgical year. That year, I found myself looking at things with a new view. That year, I appreciated the kicks and the discomfort and the fact that Mary rode a donkey for nearly 70 miles while bursting with baby. It made me look at my own complaints about long car trips in a whole new way.

Think of that moment when she and Joseph decided they had to go to Bethlehem — while she was super-pregnant, with nowhere to stay. Lest I get overwhelmed by how much there is to do in Advent, I need only remember this image: Mary, on a donkey, pregnant-to-breaking, with her husband walking beside her, and no hotel booked. Makes my Advent failures look small, even silly. Makes my mention of Advent feel inconsequential, really.

But from what I’ve heard from others over the years, it’s not unusual to feel Advent as a time of failure. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe that’s the littleness that’s unique to Advent. Maybe that’s the focus I should start taking when Thanksgiving is over and Advent is suddenly upon me.

It’s not about when we’ll decorate or whether we should sing Christmas songs before a certain day. It’s not about the gifts I need to buy and wrap and organize. It’s not even about our plans or how we’ll tri-locate when there’s a tournament and a party and a sick kid.

So often, I get caught up in the details and I lose sight of the big picture. And, despite Advent being a little season full of big love, I find myself getting angry and stressed and overwhelmed by the big stresses I’ve imposed upon it.

It’s about a baby in a manger. It’s about the salvation of my soul. It’s about so much more … and so much less.

Less? Why, yes.

The baby doesn’t need much — though you wouldn’t know it from the bursting baby industry. Give them some food, a warm snuggle, fresh diapers, and they’re good. Truly, they are. Content. Asleep. Growing.

That baby in the manger — the king of the universe — isn’t asking for much from me. In fact, he’s asking for nearly nothing. While he wants all of me, that doesn’t mean he wants all the stuff I’ve been trying to shove into the season. The daily devotions? The extra parties? The keeping track and shopping and planning? None of that “more” is in what he asks of me.

If I’ll sit down with him, Christ will be happy. If I look in the eyes of those people he’s so generously put in my life and be truly present, be truly active, be truly thankful, Christ will be content. If I make it to Christmas without a momtrum because of some small detail, Christ will coo happily.

Every year, we get to welcome a king. It’s the gift God keeps on giving each of us. And, for me, there is a gift in the failure I experience.

We’re kicking off our year, and I’m failing right out of the gate. That’s a beautiful lesson in either humility or stupidity, or maybe it’s meant to be a lesson in both.

I’m going to fail. It’s part of fallen human nature. But in failing, I draw closer to my savior, I’m more willing to embrace his outstretched hand, and I’m more open to his love. In failing, I accept who he can make me, who he intends me to be, who I am not.

Some would say, then, that the failure isn’t really a failure any more than the manger-as-a-crib was a failure. I think, in fact, it’s grace and opportunity, making me more into the woman God has in mind for me to be.

And, for that, the failure is completely worth it.

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