Wait for the LORD; be strong and courageous. Wait for the LORD.
Christmas season as a mama of young children sometimes feels like a deep isometric stretch – a steady work of holding joy and calm, while the muscles of the heart burns with laying our lives down, carrying the load of work for the sake of our family’s jubilation.
Together, we hold the immense privilege and the immense responsibility of being mama.
I feel on my shoulders the honor and the duty to steer through the busyness with grace, while working to create a home of peace, and a steadfast notice of Emmanuel.
This season, I revel in the abundance of joy, the abundance of events, the abundance of distractions, the abundance of blessing, the sheer abundance of the day. And I’m holding a posture of praise with quivering muscles, while the rush of more, faster, better badgers me.
You too, Mama?
The eyes of our children are full of hopeful expectancy and carefree delight. The days are sprinkled with countdowns and Advent calendars full of chocolate and burgeoning excitement that sometimes feels more like a tornado in our homes. But their waiting is what makes Christmas morning so sweet. Their waiting draws them in, and prepares their hearts for explosive joy on Christmas morning.
The mystery breeds the magic.
And for all of us, Advent is about waiting and preparing, yes for presents, but ultimately for the most extraordinary gift of Christ. But I can’t help but notice that we aren’t very good at waiting these days. In the days of high-speed internet, digital pictures (remember when we had to take them to get developed?), Amazon Prime with free one day delivery, and GoogleMaps that can tell us how to avoid the traffic…waiting can feel unfamiliar, and awkward.
I think God’s Word whispers that waiting and faith go hand-in-hand, and I sense a sweetness in resting in the arms of God in the in-between place.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.This is what the ancients were commended for.
Hebrews 11: 1-2 NIV
And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
Isaiah 25: 9 KJV
I wonder if Advent is meant to invite us in to the mystery that requires us to trust. I wonder if preparing to receive Christ looks a bit like working the muscle of delighting in God amidst waiting. The heroes of our faith drew close to the heart of God while waiting for answers to prayers, waiting for promises to be fulfilled, waiting for dreams to come true. I’m falling in love with a season placed in our calendars that was meant to invite us to wait and prepare to freshly receive the fulfillment of the greatest promise – the promise of a Rescuer, a Savior, a King.
In 2017, busy is a bit more comfortable than slow. A season to get things done is more familiar than a season meant to be an interlude. Most of us feel more closely acquainted with work than with rest.
But I sense a beautiful invitation in Advent, to find God in the pause, to let our hearts rest in the wait, to let our wonder and our longing grow, and to let a joyful anticipation for Christ well up in our souls.
I taste the wonder of Christmas when I sing Silent Night, or when I sit by our Christmas tree and watch the flames wink and dance in my fireplace. I feel that flutter of excitement in my chest, and for a moment, I grasp the magnitude of God With Us, as I simply let my heart pause and accept the discomfort of still.
In waiting, God invites us to come a little bit closer to his heart, and to be held, not by certainty and predictability, but by his arms of goodness and grace.
Whatever you might be waiting for this Christmas…a prayer to be answered, a longing to be fulfilled, or simply to be finished with all the To Do’s of the season, may your aching be met by the eyes of God inviting you to be held.
And may your Christmas morning be a sweet fulfillment of your deepest longing…may you feel met by Lover of our Souls, who came to dwell among us, to reconcile us to himself, and to invite us into the intimate nearness with him that we were made to enjoy.
Don’t we all just long for our feet to stay steady on the ground, as the hustle and bustle of Christmas season swirls around us?
We yearn for anchored, thankful hearts and peaceful souls, as we attempt to make space to receive Christ anew, and bless loved ones with tokens of our love.
Don’t we all wish to approach the 25th with light steps and full of grace? To wake easy to the joy of God with us, and to an idyllic Christmas dream? To the smell of pine and the warmth of fire? To smiling and grateful children greeting stockings in a row, and neatly packaged presents under perfectly trimmed tree?
But in real life, advent is often packed full of overlapping parties and school events, financial stress and long lists of things that need to be done. Your little people still get tummy aches and runny noses, and toddlers shatter ornaments on the hardwood floor.
In real life, children sometimes forget to say “Thank you,” and we sometimes forget all about Jesus under piles of wrapping paper.
This time, I’m fighting hard for slow. This year, making quiet for God’s voice to be heard and receiving his peace, is at the top of every day’s list. I still get swept away by my To Do lists and the internal pressure to make my family’s Christmas perfect, but I’m grabbing hold of getting to Christmas morning with a bit of peace.
Here are a few of my favorites…
1. Begin each day with a prayer, like this one, giving your day into the hands of the King.
2. Make a habit of stopping when the rest of the world is going. Every time the pressure says “go,” just do the opposite, even if just for a moment. Take a breath, and remember that we were never meant to carry the weight of the world, because we know the One who carried it all on our behalf.
Breathe out the demands, and breathe in Christ’s sufficiency. While driving to work or school or soccer practice, use red lights as a cue to stop not only your car, but your busy thoughts, as well. Take a moment to simply be smiled upon by your Father in heaven.
My most meaningfully productive days are those submitted to the King of Kings, who is “busy,” but never in a hurry. Friends, we were created as limited beings, so we can rest assured we are only meant to be in one place at a time.
3. Begin every shopping adventure – whether out-and-about or online – with a prayer for each person on your list. Ask God for his eyes for your loved ones, and let your shopping be sweetened with His presence.
4. Light a fire or a candle – perhaps while little ones are in bed – and let the subtle change in the atmosphere usher you into a readiness to connect with God. This practice simply slows me, and soothes my restless soul. The glint and dance of orange and yellow reminds me of the way the Spirit of God moves in and through and around us. I love to turn on a worship song, sit with a hot drink, and watch the flames flicker, while asking God to whisper to me about his love.
5. Every time someone in your home says (or screams) “Mommy!”… whisper “Father, Abba,” in the quiet of your heart. Let your children be an example of the way we are invited to call upon the Lord with the needs of our days. May their constant requests move you to ceaseless prayer.
6. Spread a little Christmas cheer by smiling at your family and passersby, every time you meet their eye. The busy of roads, malls, minds and hearts can steal anyone’s joy, if we let it. I try to keep this simple habit, especially through the holiday season, and it shields my soul from the raging currents of more, faster, bigger, and better.
Sister, we can be agents of joy, rather than victims of everyone’s bad moods.
7. Keep a notebook at the table to use mealtime as an opportunity for your family to write a list of the blessings in your lives. Take a moment to give thanks together. If you are feeling overwhelmed by complicated advent devotions and routines, this is a simple habit you can start any time. There is no right or wrong way to do it, and you can’t get behind. Praise opens us up to connect with God’s heart.
8. Watch your children often, in this season. Watch the blaze in their eyes as they sit near the Christmas tree. Watch their faces when they see lights lining the edges of a house. Soak in their sweet faces, and learn what it means to live with eyes of wonder.
Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets. As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.
They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty… When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”
David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”
2 Samuel 6: 14-22
In these days as a mom of little ones, packed with these mostly invisible and seemingly insignificant moments, folding shirts and sitting in waiting rooms and midnight snuggles, packing lunches and carpool lines, tripping over toys and tripping over words that I can’t seem to make come out of my mouth as sweetly as I thought they would.
It is an abundant and blessed season, but full of these unseen and unappealing things that can leave a mama feeling lonely, isolated, discouraged.
All the things we must do – the long lists, the piled-high messes, the endless chores and the discipline failures – can cast a giant shadow over the purpose, the joy, the blessings of raising children. I can find myself wondering if I’ll just be another little old lady in the grocery store saying “Soak up every minute. You’ll blink and you’ll miss it!”
How do we hold in one mind the tremendous gift and privilege, and the weariness and struggle? How do we hold in one heart the immense delights and the hopes for beautiful futures and generations, and the dreams we fear died the day we brought that baby home? How do we lift these same eyes to the heavens, when we can barely keep them open to drive our kids to school? How do we bend the same knees before the throne of grace that are working so hard to keep standing?
Several years ago, I walked through a season of being stripped raw by exhaustion, by failure, by weakness, by my constant awareness of my brokenness, and feelings of inadequacy about what God has given me. We had a newborn baby, and my husband was traveling for work. It was a year full of trips to the ER, sickness and asthma and injuries, trials in our marriage, friends moving away. I was facing fears about not being able to control our circumstances, protect my children, my marriage, my friendships, or even my own image and identity.
Everything I had once felt competent at felt like it was slipping away. I went from an organized, always on time, fairly dependable person to always late, never returning phone calls, snapping at my kids, forgetting friends’ birthdays, and living in a house that mostly existed in that ‘state of emergency’ kind of mess.
My sense of identity crumbled, and my ideas about how my faith should sustain me seemed to be failing me.
Though I had walked with Christ for many years, as real life was happening, I came up empty. I found myself writhing with worry, fear, self-doubt, loneliness, discouragement, hopelessness.
I knew that God can grant me a peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4: 6-7), so why was I writhing with worry and fear?
I knew that the God of hope can fill me with all joy and peace, overflowing with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13) , so why was I so miserable and hopeless?
I knew God could renew my strength like the eagle and make me to run and not grow weary, so why did I feel so depleted all the time? (Isaiah 40: 31)
I knew that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5: 1), so why did I feel so chained up and with insecurity and self-doubt?
I knew that His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness (2 Peter 1: 3), so why did I feel completely inadequate and ill-equipped?
I knew that God is faithful to forgive our sins (1 John 1: 9), so why was I drowning in a sea of shame and guilt?
All the promises of God’s word felt elusive, and my faith felt thin, and I felt bitterness creeping up in me about how my life was slipping away behind my family.
In this season, I desperately needed God to be real for the real moments of my days. I desperately needed the promises of scripture to be true. But I couldn’t escape the cyclical rhythms of waking and sleeping and feeding and clothing and bathing and comforting and shepherding.
It seemed that all the moments of my day were accounted for, and I couldn’t imagine discovering the margin to rediscover God.
And so, right smack in the middle of my crazy, I began a journey with a mustard seed of faith to simply CALL the Lord the things I was struggling to believe He was. To ascribe to the Lord his beauty and worth. To tell God what I knew to be true of him and simply dare to wonder that the power of it might be able to infuse my life that wouldn’t seem to slow down for thorough theological study or lengthy silent prayer or long journal entries.
I needed faith with skin on.
Like David throughout the Psalms, I began to tell my own soul to stop feeling so sorry for itself and get up and praise. And something broke in me.
Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. Psalm 103:2
Lord, your grace IS sufficient.
God, your power IS made perfect in my weakness.
Father, you ARE strong and mighty.
You ARE the protector, defender, the counselor, the King.
God, you ARE so good.
This became my dance. What I was desperate for him to be in real life I began to simply tell Him (and my own soul) that He Is. I began to offer up a sacrifice of praise. (Hebrews 13: 15).
When our hearts are postured in praise, the magnitude of God and his character of mercy and grace begin to shrink our worry, our fear, the size of our needs and requests.
I began to have eyes for all of life as worship. Everything we have to give away, everything we can pour out, every moment when we have no idea what to do, or what God is doing, or whether we are going to make it through…that everything is an invitation to worship.
When I was weak, I began to lay my ounce of energy on the alter before him, to pour it out with joy and watch Him renew me. When my schedule felt overwhelming, and I felt like too much of a mess, I began to let others come in the door, just to see what God might do. When I felt I had nothing to offer, I said “yes” to teach or lead or serve, not out of obligation, but as a proclamation of faith to God and my own heart, that He could use even broken mess of me.
Our praise, our gift, is not about the amount, the outward beauty, or the obvious value. It’s about the posture of our hearts.
It’s about self-sacrifice.
It can’t be done in a way that keeps us in tact and protects our sense of control, but in a breaking open and pouring out. Like the woman who broke the alabaster jar at Jesus’ feet…Like David shamelessly dancing before the Lord… Like Abraham placing Isaac on the alter…
True praise and adoration requires us to break wide open too.
In this season I began to see that I could spill myself out in adoration to God and that my little offerings could be priceless to the eyes of my King. I began to feel as though I was being pulled close into a sacred secret romance with him, connected to his heart in my invisible service, my invisible dance of worship.
In 2 Samuel 24: 24 we read the words of David, a man after God’s own heart, “I will not offer burnt-offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.”
Something shifts in us when our giving, our praise, costs us something, when we offer it up not just as a happy Sunday morning refrain, but as a pouring out of a broken soul in a sometimes painful declaration of faith: “You, O God, you are who you say you are.”
When I feel God got it all wrong, I proclaim that He is good. When I am empty and failing, I proclaim that His power is made perfect in my weakness. When I feel weak, I proclaim He is strong. When I can’t hear His voice, I proclaim that He is the God who loves to speak tenderly to his children, in hopeful expectancy.
The pouring out of our lives, our comfort, our sleep, our work, our energy, our tenderness…is an act of faith that proclaims that we believe God is a worthy recipient of our whole selves. In all the little things, all the in between moments, in all the mundane that threatens our joy…a habit of adoration is transforming the way I see everything.
Poured out in secret places, we are invited deeper into the heart of God. And it can all begin to feel like a dance of worship – from diapers, to emails, to late night chats, to business meetings, to carpool drives up and down the same road a hundred times a week, and everything in between. My hands dance in praise in the scrub of the pan, or the stroke of a child’s face who has just made a poor choice. My lips dance in praise as I choose gentle words, and as I proclaim God’s goodness, whether or not I feel it.
When we break open and lay it all down before the Lord in praise, we are free to dance.
Romans 12: 1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.