When Joy is Hard

One Advent a few years ago a spiritual director said to me, "Maybe this year, instead of going to Bethlehem, you need to meet Jesus at Bethany with Mary and Martha, at the tomb of Lazarus, their brother and friend."

I'll always be grateful for that guidance. Those words invited me to be myself, to be present with the grief and loss I was experiencing. The truth is, the season's theme of joy can be an especially a heavy weight for those who are marking loss instead of celebrating new beginnings. Feelings of isolation and loneliness may be experienced by those who must work through the holiday so that others can celebrate Christmas- church professionals and clergy are among this group. Sometimes glad tidings just cannot be heard no matter the regularity or the volume with which they are made.

In many a devotional guide, this week, the third week of Advent, has a mini-break intended to help us breathe a little easier. If words of joy are difficult to hear, you may need to give yourself a break, and to cut others some slack. You are doing the best you can. So are the others in your life. God's loving delight in you comes from the overflow of the Giver of Life's generosity and goodness and joy, not from anything we can try to control, nor from the traumatic events that happen to us beyond our choosing.

God is patient with you wherever you are in this month's journey. Even if you are not where you want to be, God is with you there. And for that reason, you can be patient with all, beginning with yourself. Especially when you feel much more like Scrooge or the Grinch than Santa. But we don't have to conjure up the perfect Christmas anymore than we're supposed to self-produce joy and happiness. The real Christmas is the one wherever you are, because wherever you are, God's healing and compassionate love is with you- and in you.

Peace of the Incarnate Word be with you.


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