Today I packed away the last few remnants of the holiday. Christmas is over with all its parties, presents, lights, decorations and high caloric, coma-inducing food. And, frankly, I could not be more relieved. That's not a comment on Christmas, per se, but more on my need for a return to normalcy.
Besides, this year never really felt like Christmas to me. In fact, I would have been fine without a tree or any decorations.
That is not like me.
I love my Christmas house. I love the smell of fresh pine needles, the warmth Christmas decorations add to our home, the external reminders something BIG is happening. But this year was all 'bah humbug'!
I usually participate in some form of Advent observance and enjoy focusing my attention on the waiting. The anticipation of hope dawning on a weary world. But I never established a healthy groove. I got carried along with the activity and programs and found myself easily annoyed with this disturbance in the calendar. I lost my alone time when the kids entered winter break, my diet was horrendous and the shorter days gave me a significant case of the blues. That is not a formula for Christmas joy.
So now I enter the New Year without living into the excitement of anticipation or the wonder of the incarnation. Bummer.
Not only did this negatively affect my Christmas spirit, it also generated a total funk around my usual New Year's excitement. I'm a sucker for new beginnings and ceremonial landmarks but this year it just wasn't coming together.
No sense of where God was leading me in 2014. No path. No verse. No word. Just silence. Of course, there's nothing innately spiritual about proclaiming a new beginning on January 1. I mean, the most dramatic changes often happen in the course of our ordinary lives, but I have come to enjoy this discipline in my life and was disappointed in its absence this year.
This is where it all comes together.
I tried out a couple of ideas to see if any of them resonated with me. I knew God was inviting me into a different kind of prayer practice, but still I had no sense of a theme or focus for the year. I read of someone else's word and I really, really liked it. I mean, there's no saying two people can't focus on the same thing for a year, right? Unfortunately, it wasn't the word God had for me.
On January 2 I sat down to pray and observed that I felt particularly happy; excited about what was ahead. I had no idea what that might be, but I had a sense of anticipation.
In an early December meeting with my Spiritual Director, I sensed God inviting me into a season of active waiting. Waiting with a sense of hope and joy and expectancy. Not waiting to act, but waiting for the fullness of what God has. Not forcing my agenda or manipulating circumstances, but living fully into whatever God puts in front of me.
And there it was...a year of Advent! I don't actually have the word or a particular verse, but I am confident God is inviting me into a season of expectant waiting. The kind of waiting that Mary understood...or, more accurately--didn't understand. Saying 'yes' to crazy things. Making preparations for the fruition of God's plan regardless of how people perceive me and whether or not it makes sense. A year of hope and curiosity and wonder. A year of questions and disappointment and abrupt changes of direction.
Perhaps that's what I'll call it. My year of Advent. Makes sense. I'm a very slow learner and I often require more time to grasp things than your average person. So God is giving me my own remedial course. How very thoughtful.
Or, maybe, its not my word for the year. Maybe its just for this next season--until God moves me to the next thing--however long that may be. This really is new.
I should probably wrap it up. Things are getting crazy! I'm winging it and there's no telling what could happen!
I'll keep you posted.
There's much talk about interactions between God and humans during this season. Angels appearing to Mary and shepherds and Zachariah. Remembrances of God's word to the prophets. Clear directions. Loving promises. Dramatic interventions.
For many years I believed that kind of communication had ceased long ago. I'd seen tel-evangelists misuse the phrase "God told me..." and I didn't grow up in a faith community that entrusted conversations with God to non-clergy. If God had something to say, he said it in the Bible. End of story. In this theology, my Bible reading was reduced to analyzing context and my prayer was limited to me speaking because I didn't know a God who would respond.
Oh, I heard stories of people who claimed that God spoke to them. My mother sometimes hinted that she experienced this kind of heresy. Of course, she also read "The Living Bible" so I wasn't sure she could be trusted. While I desired to experience more of God, it never occurred to me to listen for his voice.
Moving into the unknown...or the previously unheard.
I can't pinpoint the moment, or even the year that my theology began to change. I remember that my husband preached a sermon about hearing God and then I read a book by the same title by Dallas Willard. I moved slowly at first; reticent to trust what I was experiencing. But one of my first realizations was that God had been speaking to me all along. In retrospect, divine whispers permeated my story.
I was reminded this week of one of my earliest memories of God giving me words. It was at Sioux Center Christian School in Mr. Hofland's Jr. High art class. Our class had been commissioned to create a stained glass window for the building entrance and Mr. Hofland was soliciting potential Bible verses or spiritual phrases that would be appropriate for this masterpiece.
Art was not my thing and a part of my brain shut down when creative ideas were being bantered around. I preferred to excel on the basketball court or on tests where right and wrong were easily deciphered. My best friend, Jami, was good at art. She had the 'eye'. I did not. While I could recognize great art, I could absolutely not create it.
But sitting in that art room an idea came to me. Not just a passing thought. More like a a passion. Time slowed and I could feel my heart beat. I raised my hand to share these words. "The least of these I call my own." As I said them, I had a deep sense that to choose any other phrase for the window would be a grave wrong. Perhaps I was so invested in these words because I rarely contributed anything of artistic or creative value in this class, but I think not. Today, I believe it was one of my first brushes with the voice of God.
Since then I've become more attune to God's voice. I've experienced nearly irresistible calls to action where all my senses were engaged as well as barely distinguishable melodies of grace. I've misunderstood, I've sometimes disobeyed and I've often questioned these promptings. But I no longer question that God speaks, and that he speaks to me.
John 10:27English Standard Version (ESV)
The phrase I shared that day was ultimately chosen, becoming a visual reminder to me of the joy of following a God who would entrust me with his heart. But this season is all about this amazing God who would embrace the weak and lowly and "who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross" (Hebrews 12:2). May you experience him afresh this season and hear him lovingly sing your name!
How does God speak to you? Are there any times when his voice has been unmistakable? Have you ever questioned if you were hearing God's voice or just thinking crazy thoughts? How do you distinguish?
Kelli is a writer, speaker and consultant equipping leaders for a deepening intimacy with Christ, greater impact in ministry and more effective intentionality in all of life.
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