Car troubles, snotty noses, a funeral & four candles

by Kristin on December 21, 2010

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo by Charles Williams

Yesterday Jason and I jumped the battery on one car, put the spare tire on the other car (OK, Jason did that by himself). When it was all said and done, we bought eight new tires. Merry Christmas to us.

Later that evening, after dinner, we sat around the table with our girls as they lit all four Advent candles and took turns reading.

It’s the fourth week of Advent. Since the season began, I’ve been to church, decorated a tree, lit candles, sang O Come O Come Emmanuel, and reflected and written down my thoughts. Yet somehow I don’t feel any closer to Christmas. In fact, yesterday sums up the way this entire Advent has felt: things breaking down around us as we try to go through the motions and keep the season’s traditions alive.

Setting the stage: darkness

It’s been a week of car troubles, a funeral, snotty-nosed colds, and sleety grey skies—no wonder I recently tweeted this:

it’s interesting that we don’t want to experience sadness this time of year, but Christmas is much more meaningful against a dark backdrop.

This isn’t an easy thing for me to accept. In my memory, the Advent seasons of my childhood were chock-full of goodness, joy and light. That was the point—it was the happiest time of the year (at least from the perspective of a child). But for so many people, the holidays bring more sadness than joy. Here’s how I put it in my recent piece for the Huffington Post, on joint custody and the holidays:

All of the season’s greetings begin with “Merry” or “Happy,” but the holidays sure have a way of highlighting the misery in our lives, too. Even when I’m not feeling particularly sad in the moment, December has a way of prompting me to dwell on what has been sad in my life. I guess there’s something about seasonal traditions that unearth memories, and something about memories that conjure up darker times in my life: unhappy Christmases during my first marriage; those years I did my best as a single mom; and how I still get to spend only every other Christmas with my two daughters.

Strike a match, change the tone

Today happens to be the shortest, darkest day of the year—we light all four Advent candles this week for good reason. If you think about it, lighting a candle in a room already flooded with light doesn’t do much to change the mood of the room. But striking a match in the dark? It’s powerful.

There’s a lot of darkness to ward off in our lives and in the world, but light always overcomes it. And when the light feels dim, we can choose to light another candle and take another look at the verses my daughters read last night, from Isiah 9. They never mean exactly the same thing to me, so they never grow old.

2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.

Peace to you and yours, in darkness and in light.

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  • Kirstin

    It sounds like this will be one of those years that you “muddle through somehow” as the song says. Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us.

  • Susan

    I loved your post at Huffington Post and how it ties in with your thoughts here. I’ve been mulling over similar questions lately about sadness. Are we really doing ourselves a disservice living in an age of the great pursuit of happiness? Sadness helps us to grow in ways happiness never well. It’s contemplative and powerful, poignant, and true. It can in some strange ways be more comforting and consistent than happiness. Like remembering a loved one passed and realizing how much they meant to you and how it’s changed your life.

    It’s interesting how joint custody probably brings you and your husband a bit closer together, too. Since he experiences the same. And gives new empathy to your relationship with your ex and his significant other.

  • The Modern Gal

    This resonates so much with me right now. I was really feeling the “Christmas spirit” until a series of sad events happened, and I had a hard time finding anything to feel joyful about. I guess this season is about looking for that light and focusing on it as it works to wash the darkness away.

  • Kristin T.

    Kirstin, thank you for being willing to “muddle through” with me! I hope your holidays offer some needed fun and respite.

    Susan, this is a really fascinating question: “Are we really doing ourselves a disservice living in an age of the great pursuit of happiness?” A few years ago I read an article about a brain surgery that will “erase” traumatic memories. Of course, sadness is one thing and trauma is another, but it did make me pause and wonder how important these less-than-joyful moments are in shaping who we are. I’ve read a lot of the “happiness theory” stuff with great interest, and I think maybe the key lies in changing how we define happiness, and allowing sadness to be in the mix. Seems like another whole blog post is emerging… :)

    The Modern Gal, I know so many people who are going through really rough/sad times right now. I’m not sure what is up with the universe, but I am glad that I can empathize and offer understanding as we all do our best to brighten the light together. I hope you feel surrounded by some of that light.

  • Ray Hollenbach

    The power of Isaiah’s verses is, for me, exactly what you said, Kristin: “They never mean exactly the same thing to me, so they never grow old.” That’s inspiration–no matter what your view of inspiration happens to be–the words written more than twenty-five hundred years ago are still alive, still speaking

    Your observations here and in the H. Post also take on extra meaning at Christmas because we celebrate when God became Man, and in so doing, he is “fully acquainted with grief,” as well as joy.

    Merry Christmas!

  • Nicole Unice

    Kristin, I love this. I’ve been mulling over the same thoughts this season. Does earthly disappointment in consumerism and materialism and deficit relationships actually prepare us MORE for our need for Jesus, our Savior, Christ and King? I’m starting to think that it does, despite the dreariness of such realizations. I’m trying to cling to Christ as my true only hope and desire, even when it’s painful. Or maybe I’m clinging to him because of that pain….

  • Jen

    I feel this, Kristin. Very strongly. Your posts on Advent have meant a lot to me, because this has been an especially hard, sad Christmas for my family, and though I wish nothing but happiness for everyone (especially this time of year) it’s oddly comforting to know none of us are alone. Hope that sort of makes sense. :)

    And exactly! Christmas, the light, striking matches in the dark… it all means so much more “against a dark backdrop.” Or like The Modern Gal said, “looking for that light” that “works to wash the darkness away.” (I love that!)

    I just finished a long study of Isaiah with my co-workers, and it’s amazing how much that story of darkness and light has come alive to me. I never read much of that book before, other than the well known passages, but now it’s become one of my new favorite books.

    Thank you for being so honest and vulnerable in your writing. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas and feel surrounded by the light. Dawn is coming! That’s worth celebrating. I know I’m ready for it. :)

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  • Kristin T.

    Ray, this is such an important thing for me to remember: “…we celebrate when God became Man, and in so doing, he is “fully acquainted with grief,” as well as joy.” It’s one of those things I know intellectually, but somehow there’s a part of me that still imagines Jesus being so much more even-emotioned—just sort of floating through life in a clean, effortless way, without the messy extremes we are pummeled with. Thanks for putting it so clearly.

    Nicole, such great, digging-deeper thoughts! Deficit relationships—lots to think about there. I think you’re right on with all of this. The thing we have to be careful of, though, is sliding toward that take on God that says “God creates misery in the world so we will turn to him.” I know that neither you or I would ever promote that theology, but it’s amazing how common it is, and how easy it is for others who have been steeped in that approach to misinterpret our very different one. As writers, I guess it’s partly up to us to figure out how to articulate those distinctions, eh? :) A challenge, for sure.

    Jen, that makes perfect sense—knowing you’re not alone isn’t at all about reveling in others’ difficulties. Thank you for appreciating the honest, vulnerable, and not-so-pretty, and for sharing your own struggles through it all with me. I hope you’re feeling that light of dawn begin to spread over your life. (And now I’m inspired to do a study of Isaiah!)