By Pastor Paula Lund Burchill
I have said that one of my biggest sabbatical “accomplishments” was that I was able to be very present each day. This is not my usual tendency. My organizational proclivities tend to have me looking to what is next.
So the Christmas season is in many ways tailor-made for people like me. Endless countdowns and lists to be made. There are gifts to shop for, cookies to bake, letters to write, houses to clean—it never seems to end this time of year, and I have to admit I kind of love it.
But it also doesn’t feel quite right anymore. As I headed into sabbatical, I knew myself well enough to know that if I was always looking to what was next I would start to worry about there not being enough time to do it all. So I made myself breathe deeply and just focus on today.
That seems like a pretty important discipline for what in the church we call the season of Advent. Culture calls Advent the Christmas season, and in this cultural season we are ever propelled forward into more things to buy, more things to do, and into worries about not having enough. Culture is constantly warning us that we are running out of time this time of year.
In the bible, waiting is a hugely important part of faith. God makes promises God’s people have to wait for–the promise of land, the promise of children and descendants, the promise of a Messiah. All of these promises have us looking toward the future, but with an important difference. We look toward the future with trust that the future is in God’s hands. And in that knowledge, we become free to live fully into the present.
It’s a subtle distinction, but I think an important one. When this time of year becomes about endless lists and countdowns, at least for me, the focus is on me. What have I done? What should I do next? But what if instead, I breathe deeply and remember that this is a holy time of waiting and trusting. Yes, there are preparations to be made. But they are not the point. The point the present.
I think this is what was so huge for me this summer. I made myself trust that tomorrow was in God’s hands. Yesterday is too. When you’re present in today, the fear of the future doesn’t get to drive the bus anymore. When we live in the present, we can trust the future to God.
That’s what I’m trying to remember this Advent. It’s a battle for sure. But it’s worth it to see the present for the true gift it is.