Living in the In-Between

light-581469_1920

November blindsided me with its arrival this year. I know everyone says the years go by faster the older you get, but this year has rushed by with startling speed.

By the beginning of November I usually have the kids gather up some of the many branches that have fallen from the sturdy trees in our back yard. We string paper leaves from the branches placed in a vase and take stolen moments around the dinner table to jot down our thanks, to stop in all the hurry and be grateful.

The rain came in sheets this year. Busyness surrounded us, keeping us from our usual project as the month began. As the days passed and our little centerpiece wasn’t in place, I felt the chance to be intentional slipping away.

My heart skipped a beat when I realized a vacation planned in the middle of the month, along with a busy season at work and writing deadlines mean that Thanksgiving would come and go and then Advent would be upon us.

Advent. By definition this season is an expectant waiting and preparation for the coming of Jesus. I close my eyes when I think of the word Advent and picture candles lit, ornaments hung, carols sung. I think of a peaceful expectancy, a stirring in your heart that says something wonderful is on the way.

I open my eyes and the image disappears, replaced by parties marked on calendars, shopping lists, and presents to wrap. This season that leads up to the celebration of Jesus’ arrival on earth has become for me, as I suspect for most of us, anything but waiting.

Rushing. Planning. Buying. Juggling. Cooking. Wrapping. Hurrying.

There is an ache in my heart when I think of the days I know are just around the corner. I know it will come too quickly and depart before I have had the chance to really grasp it. Every year it feels like it slips away like a puff of smoke, disappearing before I can fully feel its presence.

Last year my kids would huddle around the life-size advent calendar we made out of envelopes with ornaments in them taped onto a board. For the first few days they would fight over who got to open the envelope that day and see what picture was tucked inside. They would color and listen to the stories that lead up to the story we are all waiting for, hungry for—the story that says our hope has arrived. Our waiting is over.

After a few late nights and getting behind on our little ritual, the envelopes piled up and there were more stories than we had time for. We found ourselves rushing through the story just to fit it in. It became a chore instead of a joy and my heart felt that familiar ache.

There never seems to be enough time for slowness, for savoring.

It’s just like Christmas dinner. We prepare for hours with recipes and prepping, cooking and baking. Then, it is over in mere minutes and it always feels like it went too quickly. We are full for a short while and then the hunger returns.

Before Thanksgiving was even here, I started thinking about Advent and how I could bring more of a spirit of waiting into our family. I started looking for my candles, the readings I try to do each week as I light them. I remembered how many of the readings focus not on the coming of Jesus as a baby in a manger but of Him coming again.

The ache I feel every year at this time, the longing for something more—it suddenly made sense.

We love the story of a silent night. We sing it with candles lit, hushed in reverence. In that moment, all feels calm and right. The silent night ended though, and as much as Jesus’ coming to this earth changed everything, much stayed the same.

We have a Savior but we still live in a broken world. We still ache for everything to be restored, to be made new and perfect.

Yes, there is hope. We know how the story ends. But we still have to live in the in-between. There is still an ache because we know there is pain in the waiting. More rushing and worrying will come. More holy and slow moments are in store, too.

So, this year I am thinking a bit less about the baby in a manger and more about the years the people of God spent crying out for Him to come, waiting and expecting. It wasn’t an easy waiting but one filled with longing and tears.

Hope comes to us and tells us we can hang on. We hang onto the knowledge that He has come.

Hope calls to us and promises the ache will not last forever. We cling to the belief that He will come again.

Nicole T. Walters

Nicole T. Walters

Nicole T. Walters loves to experience and to write about this messy, noisy, beautiful world and cultures not her own. Though her family’s roots run deep in the soil of the Southern United States, Nicole and her husband and two little ones are learning to love hot milk tea instead of sweet iced tea as they make their home in South Asia. She hopes to help others create space to hear God’s voice in all the noise of life as she writes about faith from a global perspective at A Voice in the Noise (Nicoletwalters.com). She has authored essays in several books and her writing has appeared in places live CT Women, Relevant, and Ruminate. She is a regular contributor here at The Mudroom, SheLoves Magazine, and READY Publication and is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild.
Nicole T. Walters

Latest posts by Nicole T. Walters (see all)

  • Terri

    “more about the years the people of God spent crying out for Him to come, waiting and expecting” I love this facet of Advent you share, resonates with my heart. Wishing you some moments of slowness.

    • You too, Terri! That is what I wish for all of us, hope to come. Blessings!

  • BLINDSIDED! Me too. Already feeling claustrophobic about the crowded calendar this week. Your words make me realize that this is all part of the ache of the in-between, and that maybe in this longing for a different celebration there is a truer and more genuine experience of Advent’s focus on Jesus’ “coming.” Blessings, Nicole.

    • Oh my goodness, claustrophobic. That is how it feels. It is like everything crowds around you and you can’t breathe. May it make the slow moments all that much sweeter for all of us!

  • Thank you for this, Nicole. I am longing for time to be and haunted by the to-do’s this month. It is especially hard work it seems to keep my eyes and heart open and ready to catch glimpses of God with Us.

    • Jess, I loved your Welcoming Advent poem as well. “What are you growing in me, God? Make room. Make space. For this life planted by you.” I think it is all the same longing, for bring, for room for Him. It is hard work but worthy work!

  • Laura LaSpalluto

    I wonder if its precisely because we do know how the story ends that we have trouble being still. I often think I should be able to have the longing and expectancy that preceded the first Advent, but I can’t. I know the when and where and how and who; its no wonder my mind rushes right to it. Perhaps I need to look for a different kind of longing and expectancy, one that seeks something fresh and new amid the familiar and the expected.

    • That is a wonderful point I have never considered! I think for me that is why thinking about Him coming again is my new. I find myself getting bogged down thinking about the here and now. I am trying to place my focus on the longing of all made new. I think of my grandmother who didn’t really talk about Jesus until her deathbed and she suddenly had this longing for Him because she could see the end clearly. I want to look with expectation towards eternity in my every day, which is where I really need some work! Great thoughts…

  • I love the contrast from when you close your eyes to picture Advent and then open them. So often we have ideals about how things should be and they are far from reality. We do have a longing and one day all things will be made right, but in the meantime we can live our lives with hope knowing God is with us through every moment of every day. Jesus sees, knows and loves and will most certainly come again!

  • Such a great post, Nicole. I also think it’s important to recognize that many of the faithful things we do to celebrate Christmas–especially with kids–can contribute to a feeling of business. I think there can be as much hope in skipping things that feel like TOO MUCH (an advent reading every night, the thousands of ways to give, the Christmas cards) and simplifying as relentlessly as we can. Half of my stress at the holidays comes from this sense that I have got to COMMEMORATE THE HECK out of every moment. You know what? Jesus and Mary mostly changed diapers on Christmas and probably went to buy some food. I pray that both of us can learn to wait in the in-between and settle there, expectantly.