Advent Devotion 12-18-19

Wednesday, December 18, 2019                                                         

 Psalm 37:7-9

7 Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;
do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
over those who carry out evil devices.
8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.
Do not fret—it leads only to evil.
9 For the wicked shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

Broken…and Healed

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.
Do not fret—it leads only to evil. (v. 8)

It was a Friday in December. In typical fashion, it began with my sons and I running a little bit late to get to our respective schools. I can’t remember the particulars of that morning, or what I taught in my classes It was an unremarkable, run of the mill day.

What I do recall is a fellow teacher coming into my room around lunchtime to share that a shooting had taken place in an elementary school in Connecticut. I know that most of us remember that day in horrifying detail, so I will not recount any of the particulars. I recall leaving school, and breaking every posted speed limit between my work and home. I remember the boys’ confusion as I hugged them so tightly, and cried into their sweet, soft hair. My morning was akin to every one of the parents who lost a child that day, and yet, here I was, able to hold mine.  The following Monday was unequivocally the most frightening and difficult school drop off I ever made. Every moment of that weekend was peppered with the jarring realization of how lucky I was to put them to bed, to struggle with bath time, to break up an argument, or to read them a story. I could not stop the intrusive thoughts that wondered about the parents of the children who died only hours before, and how they would never be able to do any of these things again. What began as grief and fear, quickly turned to deep, profound anger.

It was the focal point of every interaction for what seemed like forever. At Pageant rehearsal, school, home, Christmas dinner, and on and on. I was an outspoken member of the masses who quickly sought a convenient place to assign blame. His upbringing? Mental health? The school’s security system? Every one of them an impatient, convenient way to distance my children, or myself from a similar fate, comparable vulnerability. I was glued to the news, social media, and every other collective discussion of parents, teachers, etc… whose shared grief and rage seeped into every in person or online conversation. Every interaction I had with God was accusatory. How could this be allowed to happen? I did not bother to listen or look for a response.

As days stretched into weeks, my mind continued to obsess over this event, though now with the more frightening realization that no convenient answer would be given. People everywhere expressed grief, confusion, pain, and anger, yet nothing seemed to be happening at the governmental level. As time passed, the communal outrage lessened, and our human brains, which are so skilled at survival and self-preservation, seemed to file it away and forget. Until the next shooting, then another, and another. Every one causing familiar waves of uproar, finger-pointing, and then no real or lasting change. I resented comments that seemed a conveniently pious dismissal of each. “Thoughts and prayers.”  I despaired at what I felt was my helplessness in this cycle. I continued to accuse God, and my prayers were filled with rage, helplessness, and resentment, that I began to feel disconnected from my faith. Prayers, which had always been conversations between God and myself were one-sided.

I wasn’t sleeping, and wasn’t taking care of myself. I was so anxious and impatient that I found it nearly impossible to be present at school or at home. I was afraid. I was more curt than usual, which would be followed by an outpouring of guilt-ridden apology and requests for forgiveness. I would sit in my car at school, looking for unfamiliar people or vehicles in the lot, having to talk myself into walking into the building each day. I had elaborate fantasies about how I would save my students, and where we would hide if a shooter entered our building. On bad days, I would think about where to hide myself, because the thought of my sons having to grow up without me seemed to trump all else. I held my sons as they cried about lockdown drills, and comforted my students who were more frightened than empowered by each practice.  I harbored ugly, sometimes violent thoughts about people in positions of power, about family members who continued to toe party lines regardless of the hate-filled, or greed-driven actions of the politicians they supported.

A few years later, I sat in church waiting to run that week’s Christmas Pageant rehearsal. Since that fateful December, I had developed a new appreciation for my role. Selfishly, I was grateful for the distraction, as the anniversary of the shooting closely coincided with the date of the pageant. On this particular Sunday everyone had already migrated to Coffee Hour, and I waited for the thundering sound of the SCS children running up the stairs to the sanctuary. I thumbed through the script as I listened for their footsteps. In this moment of stillness and quiet, a line jumped out at me.

“And so it came to pass that word of the birth of the Christ Child spread throughout the region.  People rejoiced that the promise had been kept, and they believed.  There were some who could not understand the power of deliverance through love, and they wondered how this tiny child could indeed be the promised miracle, Savior and King, the Prince of Peace.”

In this moment of patience, came a jolt of realization. Academically, I already understood that very generation, every age, every small or large community is tasked to endure varying degrees of the unimaginable. Shaking fists at the sky is a not new or unique response to such circumstances.

However, this moment was different. Thinking about a tiny baby being born in that frightening time while I waited to teach a new group of children about the birth of Jesus, this understanding migrated from academic to spiritual. My worry, anger, and awful thoughts of retribution and cruel consequence were holding me prisoner. They were keeping me from accepting or projecting God’s love and forgiveness to those around me. They obscured my ability to see that my impatience, anger and resentment only caused more despair, and more fear.

That pause, in waiting for rehearsal to begin, changed me. Patience is not passive, but active, and allows us to bear witness to God’s presence in our world. Just as it did with Jesus’ birth, the seemingly endless period of suffering and waiting yielded a miracle of hope, forgiveness and love. Though waiting, the shepherds actively tended their flocks; wise men actively watched the sky, believing that change was not only possible, but imminent. Thoughts and prayers are actions necessary for change. They allow us to be patient with arms outstretched to receive, have power to disrupt cycles of negativity, and open our eyes to see God at work, our minds to accept miracles, and hearts to hope in the darkest of times.

Let us pray. Dear Lord, help us to be actively patient, compassionate, and hopeful in a world where we often feel helpless and overwhelmed, surrounded by fear, pain, and divisiveness. Let your example of love and forgiveness lead our actions and decisions instead of fear and greed.  Let our eyes open to, and hearts grateful for the love and blessings you bestow upon us each day.

Submitted by: Nina Tobin