Whenever we get to spend the holidays with my wife's family, I always look forward to their tradition of watching what is perhaps the funniest Christmas movie ever made, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Part of the reason the movie is so funny is that we can identify with both the Griswold family's eagerness to have relatives come to their house for Christmas, and their eagerness for it to be over as soon as possible. At one point, after the extended family begins to arrive at their house, Clark says to his wife, "Well, I'm going to park the cars, and get––check the luggage, and well, I'll be outside for––the season."
The "we're glad to see them come, and we're glad to see them go" sentiment is easy to identify with. [Just to clarify for any of my own relatives who may be reading this: of course I'm speaking hypothetically here. I hear that most other families are like this, but obviously I'm really looking forward to being with all of you–just like always. It's just unfortunate that while we're together, I'll occasionally have to be somewhere else and work on finishing up these Advent posts.]
But here's the thing that holidays with our families can teach us: regardless of how alike or dislike your family may be to the Griswolds, you aren't going to go shopping for other families to spend Christmas with this year. Just because you may have your own living version of the movie's Cousin Eddie (or just because you may be the living version of Cousin Eddie) doesn't make it likely that you're going to try to find a new family who is more fun to be with. We understand that our families are our families forever–even with all of their imperfections [again, dearest relatives, hypothetically here], they are the people who have been given to us to love.
A friend whom I admire greatly recently told me about a habit he has developed with people who cause him difficulty in life–whether they are family or not. On the surface, this will seem obvious and like it isn't anything profound, but its effects run deep. He said that, whenever there is someone who irritates him or causes him strain, he intentionally begins to pray daily for that person. He said, "you cannot help but to look at someone differently once you have been praying for them."
I am convinced that we need such simple and reliable advice in our relationships at many levels. We certainly need it in our family gatherings at this time of year. I mean–um–you probably need it in your family gatherings at this time of year. Yet there are other contexts where it is just as needed. I think that God has given us two primary circles of people who should provide the context in which we learn to love others and be loved by them: family and church.
So if you are one for whom family get-togethers during the holidays doesn't involve being around people with whom you would need to follow my friend's advice, surely your church can provide someone for you. If all of your family relationships are easy, go to church and you'll be sure to encounter someone more difficult! [Once again, dear church family–hypothetical!]
Yet how differently do we treat those two sets of relationships? Our families may annoy us, but we still get together with them year after year. However, if someone in church gets under our skin, we're likely to either seek to put them in their place or avoid them. If it's someone in our Sunday School class, we can stop attending or go find another. Or, of course, we always carry the threat in our pockets of going to find another church.
When we do so, we completely miss the point: we are in these relationships to learn to love.
So our final suggestion in laying the groundwork this week for waiting on God throughout Advent is:
- Focus on learning to love those with whom God has already connected you–whether through family, church, or other relationships. Love them as they are without attempting to fix them or let them in on the great plan you have for their lives.
- Take my friend's advice in regard to any of your difficult relationships by praying for that person often–before, during, and after interacting with them. (Of course, now many of us may have a whole new reaction when someone at church mentions that they're praying for us!)
The connection between learning to love and our theme this week of practices for waiting on God may not seem as obvious as some of the previous days' suggestions, but we make a costly mistake if we ever separate our personal spiritual practices from our relationships. If I pray, read the scriptures, take Communion, and spend ample time in silence and solitude, but am a selfish grouch, it's safe to say that I have not waited upon God in those practices but have only done them in ways that have allowed me to remain in control. Or from the positive angle, when we wait upon God through these practices as well as learn to love people through our ordinary relationships, we will find that the time we spend alone with God always, inevitably, has effect on our relationships.
So far in our reflections, I have tried to lay a foundation by digging into things that we can be doing to wait on God throughout Advent. For the remainder of these weeks, we will begin exploring the stories that have shaped Advent for so many Christians for so long. While this week has focused on the present aspects of Advent (how Christ comes to dwell more fully in us now) tomorrow we turn a corner and look to the future. We now have some tools that will help us to heed the Bible's call to always be ready, but what is it that we're supposed to be ready for?
A Prayer for the Day:
Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all your works and sanctified a day of rest for all your creatures: Grant that we, putting away all earthly anxieties, may be duly prepared for the service of your sanctuary, and that our rest here upon earth may be a preparation for the eternal rest promised to your people in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.*
A Prayer for the Week:
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.*
Readings for the Week*:
*Prayers are from The Book of Common Prayer and readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary.