When I was in undergrad, our campus ministry spent an entire year diving into the theme passionate and steadfast as a way of understanding the character of God and our relationship with God. Throughout that year, as we delved into this theme, I had no way of knowing how important that understanding of faith would be in my life.
Dictionary.com defines passionate in these ways:
In the same way that there are seasons of life and faith that are fueled by passion, there are seasons where everything is difficult and where it takes every ounce of effort just to show up. It is in those seasons that we must cling to the deepest knowledge of God’s faithfulness and a hope that is deeper than human experience. It is in these seasons that living out our faith is fueled by a steadfast spirit. One that says, even when I don’t feel God’s presence, I will choose to show up. I will choose to invest in community. I will choose to show up to worship. I will choose to be carried in faith by the great cloud of witnesses that goes before and behind me.
One of my youth group students texted me the other night asking: “How did you know when it was the right time to come back to Epiphany?” My first thought upon receiving that message brought back a flood of memories around this theme of being passionate and steadfast. This is a kid who has been overwhelmingly passionate in his faith and is recently struggling, and has withdrawn some from our community as a result. My response back started with these words: “We knew from the very start that we were coming back. This is the community that carried us.”
The reality is that there were days after losing Alexander that I could have easily run far far away. I could have run away from God and from my faith and from our faith community. I could have turned my back, and people would have understood. In fact, I had people on several occasions ask me very candidly if I had considered not returning to work or youth ministry. In those moments and in the days and weeks since July, I have been so grateful for the foundation and vocabulary that was provided for me during that year in undergrad. I know deep down inside as a result of that year that there will be seasons of life and faith and ministry that will be fueled by a passionate fire that cannot be put out, and that there will also be seasons fueled by a reliance on the steadfast faithfulness of God even in the midst of the darkest days.
There are days that I don’t feel like showing up to worship. There are days that I don’t feel like going into the office. Especially in this advent season, there are times that I don’t feel like being surrounded by the joyful anticipation–the christmas programs, the choruses of “Joy to the World,” the lights and decorations. But because I trust in a God whose faithfulness transcends my circumstances, I show up. Just as I am. I show up.
I let others carry me when I need to be carried. I step away and take a break for some deep breaths when I need to. I sing when I can and listen when I can’t.
This past Saturday, we held our fifth annual progressive dinner and youth ministry Christmas party, where we travel from home to home eating delicious food and just enjoying one another’s company. Everyone’s home was beautifully decorated for the holidays, and our students enjoyed lots of laughter and just being together as they start out or anticipate a break from school for Christmas. There were Christmas movies and lights and laughter. We always wrap up the evening with desserts and a gift exchange at our house.
While it had crossed my mind a few times, I didn’t give it much thought until I was giving final instructions to everyone for the arrival at our house. Each year upon arrival, we have everyone bring in their gifts and desserts–desserts go on the dining room table and gifts go under the tree. The tree that isn’t put up this year, because we have not done any decorating this year. So, I quickly modified plans and announced: “When you get to our house, desserts go on the dining room table, and gifts go on the coffee table in the family room.”
When we all arrived back at our house, it hit me how different this year’s event should have been. I stepped away for a few minutes and spent some time just sitting alone in the front living room where all of Alexander’s things are. My friend SC who was one of the drivers and adult leaders for the day came in and sat with me for a few minutes. One of the other adult leaders mentioned how different this day should have been and would have been if we were carting around a five month old along with all of the youth group kids.
Deep breaths. A few tears. And some moments of silence.
This season of grief is one in which I am still so frequently carried by my community. It is one in which there are days where the best I can do is show up and try to be present and trust in the unfailing faithfulness of God. The holidays are hard, but we’re doing the best we can as we cling to the hope of a God who promises to enter into a dark and broken world to truly be our Emmanuel: God with us.