Exposing the Emptiness: Advent Reflection #1

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Photo cred: @eliciaedijanto – one my my favorite artists.

Many Sunday evenings I find myself feeling empty.  The ego drug of being a pastor on Sunday mornings has lost its buzz and I end up alone on the couch.  As much as we’ve tried to engineer a community that redefines what it means to be a pastor, much of the standard “best” practices from mainstream Christianity have inevitably seeped into my psyche.   From within the recesses my prideful yet self doubting mind come thoughts like these:

“Did people like me?”
“How many people came to service?”
“Is anybody tweeting/facebooking about me/us?”
“How do we/I compare with other churches/pastors?”
“I need to loose weight and look cooler.”
“I’m not the right person for this whole thing.”

In these moments my insecurities, emotional fatigue, drained adrenal gland, and longing for adoration are mixed up like a potent cocktail of self loathing and loneliness.  I typically try to drowned these haunting feelings out by watching TV, having a drink or two, or swiping through the endless supply of images on my social media feeds.  Maybe you can relate.

When do you crash?  When is it just you alone with your thoughts?  When does shame creep up into your consciousness like heartburn bubbling up from within?  How do you tend to distract yourself from these emotions- in what ways do you drown them out?

This year, during Advent, I’m going to try and change my habit of darkness avoidance.  See, Advent is a time of entering into the darkness, embracing it instead of running from it, and allowing it to grow in us our awareness of longing.  Ultimately at the root of our deepest longings is a void that goes beyond the surface level ego fixes we tend to chase.  In our souls, the deepest parts of our being, our longing is for home.  Our fear is that we’ll never find it or that it doesn’t exist- that life and death is all there is.

That’s why Augustine famously said, “Our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”

This Advent, what if we opened up our longings and even our darkest thoughts instead of burying over them with distractions?  What if we laid bare these embarrassing vulnerabilities and trusted in our insecurities, allowing them to teach us?  Where would it take us?

I think asking questions like these is an essential practice, and at the core of the Christian tradition.  We don’t hide from questions like, “Where are you God?”, “Am I alone?”  “Does any of this even matter?”.  These are ultimately the questions underneath my moments of Sunday night existential dread.

If the wisdom of our faith tradition teaches us anything about asking questions like these at times like these, it’s that this is part of the natural rhythm.  Advent may very well be a time to feel festive and sentimental, but it might be way more than that.  It might also be a process of exposing the darkness of our lives and our world and seeing which path our deepest voids take us on.  Advent teaches us that this path leads to a Middle Easter baby born among the mess of livestock to a world of uncertainty, instability, and longing.

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