“Behold, a virgin shall conceive in her womb, and she shall give birth to a son. And they shall call his name Emmanuel, which means: God is with us.” -Matthew 1:23
This statement by an angel, to the frightened carpenter Joseph, is one of the standard issue Christmas verses. And lately, it won’t get out of my head. But not because of it’s presence, rather because of it’s absence.
Here’s what I mean. This Christmas season has been the hardest for me to live within the reality that “God is with us.” Instead, I find myself wrestling almost daily with believing that God is truly near, that God is here and present with me. I realize and fully admit how narcissistic that sounds, and I try to guard myself from making such individualized statements about God (i.e. it’s all about God’s presence with ‘me!’ and then I may or may not choose to acknowledge God’s presence with ‘us’). But this season my heart is going there whether I want it to or not. My mind argues, and wants to hold tight to the knowledge of the presence of God, but my heart wars against it and finds reasons to doubt. Finds reasons to argue, reasons to latch on to the parts of my life recently that have been excruciatingly hard. The other day I wrote about some of this battle as it was reflected in attending church for the first time in a while.
And what’s curious to me is that lately I have had several very powerful reasons to accept the reality of the presence of God in my life right now. And yet, my heart still resists. It’s as though I’m living the chorus of the Mumford & Sons song, “Winter Winds”
And my head told my heart
“Let love grow”
But my heart told my head
“This time no”
So what has my head been telling my heart lately?
My wife is one week away from giving birth to our 4th boy. And what a beautiful reminder of God in so many ways. The God who creates and gives life to Creation has blessed us with the ability to create 4 miniature humans of our own. And the advent of THIS baby boy comes at the same time of year that the God who emptied God’s-self became clothed in humanity. What a perfect reminder.
And yet my heart resists.
The other day I had a conversation with someone who shared with me an incredible story of how I had been used by God to show up in someone else’s life at the exact right moment. I sent this person a text (someone I’ve texted maybe 5 times before in my life) letting them know I was thinking of them and pausing to pray for them. Come to find out, they received that text at the exact moment that something extremely difficult was happening in their life. There was maybe a 5 minute window that this moment even existed, and THAT’S precisely when I felt compelled to text them. There’s more coolness to the story that I won’t share here for the sake of anonymity, but suffice it to say that it was definitely a powerful indicator of “God with us.” And I know that the person who received my text was impacted by the presence of God. And I know that I, too, ought to have been impacted in this way.
And yet my heart resists.
A month ago we threw our kids, dog and a fish in the van and left our home in Arizona. Like many in this country, we are upside down with our mortgage. And like many, we were needing to sell our home quickly. For those who have been there before, you know the stress and strain that latches on to you when you move to a different state and leave behind a home that you hope and pray will sell. Two weeks ago, on Monday, we put our home on the market. By Tuesday we had five offers. By Thursday we accepted an offer and it went to the bank for approval. I can’t say for sure whether God assisted this process for us or not, but probably at another time in my life I might have easily attributed this moment to a blessing/presence of the Divine.
And yet my heart resists.
What I’m discovering is that while my mind has been presented with numerous evidences for the reality of God’s presence in my life, my heart seems intent on rejecting such notions. My heart is still lumbering along at a frustratingly slow pace since it was crushed several months back. My heart is still, at the very best, resisting God… and at the very worst, blaming God.
During the Advent season we are invited to a time of waiting. Of anticipation and expectation. The four words oft associated with Advent are Joy, Hope, Peace and Love.
But this season I might add a fifth word: Trust.
Better yet, I might just replace the original four with Trust.
You see, perhaps God (if God is at the moment doing such things) is inviting me in to a learning season of Trust. Perhaps God sees in my life areas where Trust is lacking, and during this season I get to lean in in a whole new way.
Trust, as I’m learning, isn’t the same thing as Faith. Here’s what I mean…
The author of Hebrews wrote, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). Or maybe you could say, faith is what you cling to when your heart has a conviction about something but you simply can’t wrap your mind around it. But Trust? Maybe trust is what you cling to when your mind has a conviction about something but your heart can’t acquiesce.
Faith for me right now isn’t necessarily the issue. I believe in the ever-presence of the Creator, the always-thereness and always-nearness of the Divine. But right now I’m struggling to trust in that which I believe in. Or, to put it more simply, I’m struggling to feel what I know. We lean in to faith to help us overcome our lack of knowing. Right now, I need to lean in to trust to help me overcome my lack of feeling. Maybe the feelings will come… maybe not. Feelings are pretty flighty like that. But as finite humans we nonetheless rely on them quite a bit.
So, for this Christmas season, I might stick with the author of Hebrews, but go backwards to the second chapter. “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor… I will put my trust in him” (2:9,13).
I may not know what that looks like. I certainly don’t know how to do it. But just being able to step back and see a glimpse of what God might be calling me to right now in my life is enough. I will lean in to that, and by doing so, lean in to God. Lean in to the Emmanuel, the God who is with us. The God who, I am led to believe, is with me.
And then, maybe then, I’ll move from the chorus of “Winter Winds” to the final verse:
And if your strife strikes at your sleep
Remember spring swaps snow for leaves
You’ll be happy and wholesome again
When the city clears and sun ascends