My sidebar is full of pictures of my old Advent Wreath! That's a funny feeling... I took the photo years ago! Welcome to all the Pause in Advent bloggers, old and new. It's great to have so many of you (see the sidebar for details) and I hope to come and visit your posts over the course of my busy week. My apologies to new and occasional readers that this post, below, is pretty heavy and personal. I promise you something light, pretty and festive next week!
To my surprise, my theme for Advent this year sounds rather like last year's. I wouldn't have expected that - I certainly don't feel 'in the same place' as last year. Last year I was thinking about the Essence of Christmas. This year, I've been feeling rather unsure about the whole thing. My faith took a battering earlier in the year, something which has never happened before. Over the past decade we've made a difficult (though ultimately delightful) move to a new country, had problems in a church, my mum has died, my dad has remarried, and through all this my faith remained real and certain. This year nothing to shock you happened at all, and yet, perhaps due to cumulative effects and one little trigger in May, it feels like the foundations of my faith have been shaken.
Over the difficult months I held on to one thing only - forgiveness. This is because my friends without particular faith live good, kind, meaningful lives, really not so different to the Christians I know and the Christian I have been. However (and you can disagree with me) it seems just about impossible, without Jesus, to offer true forgiveness. I'm not even sure if forgiveness is a particularly high priority to my non-Christian friends. After decades of living with forgiveness as both something received and given, this forgiveness-free (or forgiveness-reduced) life was the one thing that didn't seem at all attractive.
My faith was dented, shaken, and at times apparantly gone. It's still a very tentative thing - maybe it's going to grow back in strength or maybe it will always be a bit weak now, who can say? I realise that this period of doubt may help me to be more understanding and respectful of other people who question and doubt. I've seen both sides, now.
There's lots more to say and maybe some of you want to hear it. Maybe some feel that my faith or lack of it is a matter for me alone. I'm sure others are really concerned to hear what I've been through. For some it would be possible to assume that I never really had a true, saving faith in Jesus, because how otherwise could it just disappear? This article has been a lot of help to me on this subject and others - please read it if you have any questions about the whole theme of refinding faith.
But for now, the theme of my Advent pauses has been decided by some very powerful words I heard in church this morning:
'Discern the essential. Discern real life'.
I can't tell you the impact those words had on me during our communion service. I need to send an appreciative email (in French, drat...) to our pastor and the guy who was preaching this morning, as their emphasis on the Essential and on Real Life had a real turn-around effect on me. I hope that in some way the emphasis on discernment, on the essential, and on the real, gives you pause for thought in whatever you'll be doing in this first week of Advent. See you next week!
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