This time of year can present challenges to all of us as we approach the Christmas season. More and more Catholics are trying to slow down and enter into the period of waiting and preparation in the Advent season. As the secular Christmas season continues to spiral out of control, a lot of people are seeing the wisdom of this season of stillness and waiting.
The problem is that, for many of us, Advent can begin to feel more like Lent than Advent. We may find ourselves wrestling in the desert rather than waiting silently by an empty manger. The state of the Church in the past few months in the United States, and in many other countries, has resulted in a Lenten period all its own due to the abominable crimes that have come to light. So it isn’t all that surprising that many Catholics are feeling like they are in Lent rather than Advent at present.
What do we do when Advent feels more like Lent?
If you, like me, entered into Advent and woke up in Lent, don’t worry. God is working in us to bring about much needed healing and growth that will be necessary for growing in holiness. There will be times in our lives, even as we prepare for the joy of Christmas, when we will have to wage interior battles. These intense periods often feel like a wrestling match because it is in these times when God is asking us to give something up or to give something over to Him that only He can heal or resolve. We desperately want to do it ourselves, but in reality Our Triune God is the only one who can resolve these areas of our lives. We are called to trust in Him and relinquish our grip.
The stresses of daily life, health issues, grief from the loss of a loved one, habitual sin, damaged relationships, the scandals rocking the Church, marital struggles, and a whole host of other situations can lead us to a period of aridity and struggle in the desert. The long nights of late fall, the frenetic energy of this time of year, and the suffering we carry means that this time of year can be particularly difficult for many of us. For those with no family or friends to celebrate the holidays with, the loneliness can become unbearable.
Oftentimes we try to force ourselves to put on a facade that shows everyone that we are fully engaged in this time of year, when interiorly we feel nothing, frustration, anger, grief, or pain. We then experience a sense of guilt for not participating fully in the merriment around us. The fact of the matter is that God has called us into the desert for His reasons and we have to trust that He is leading us where He wants us to go. Rather than push ourselves to advance faster than He intends, we must allow ourselves to rest with Him and to seek solace in Him. We must avoid the temptation of comparing ourselves to others and turn to God alone.
The goal of spiritual deserts is always progress. It doesn’t seem that way at the time. We can begin to wonder if we will ever be let out, but these periods always come to an end in God’s time. Yesterday morning while I was trying to pray—it wasn’t going so well—I looked out my window at our deciduous magnolia. There it sat bare, blowing slightly in the breeze. On the ends of the branches were small buds. Those buds are silently waiting for spring in order to open and share their beauty with Creation. There will come a day in March when they will enter into bloom and the period of waiting will be over. In that moment, God showed me that this period of waiting, wrestling, and pain will end and spring will come for me when He ordains. It’s not up to me. It’s up to Him, but the time will come eventually.
Enter into Christ’s Presence
We will find ourselves in lush forests again in God’s time. Like the Israelites, we will be led out of exile. We must patiently wait on God to show us the answers we seek or to heal the broken places within us or in others. He asks us to come to Him, which is why frequent reception of the Sacraments is necessary in these periods. Now is also the time to sit silently with Him in Eucharistic Adoration, even if we do not know what to say. He simply invites us to sit in His Presence and rest a while.
Cling to Our Lord in prayer, even though it may be hard to do so. There is a great temptation to cease praying in trying times. It is in moments like these when we need to be praying even more and giving everything over to Him. Seek healing in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and couple it with frequent reception of Holy Communion. Christ wants to be close to us even if we ourselves want to wrestle from His grasp and we don’t sense that closeness.
As we prepare for Christmas early next week, find time to simply rest with God. It may be a monumental battle to get to a place of rest, but ask Him to provide you with the peace and stillness you need. It doesn’t matter if it only lasts a few minutes. Those few minutes can be all that is needed to continue on in the desert. Thank God for this period of growth and preparation. Remember that He is always coming to us in our daily lives, even as we wait in aridity to celebrate His coming at Christmas. Trust that this period will end and God will have led us further on the path and into greater love of Him when that time comes.