THE STRESS OF ANTICIPATION
Thanksgiving is this week—the official kick-off to the Christmas season here in the US! When I was a kid, my mom made an advent calendar that we still have. Each day of December has a little pocket with a card inside that tells part of the Christmas story, and a small treat or a toy of some sort that goes with the story. My brother and sister and I all took turns getting whatever was in that day on the calendar and reading the card out to the family. I remember reading those cards and feeling like Christmas was taking absolutely forever to come. I ached for Christmas vacation and opening presents.
Christmas Eve was the best/worst. We would be going bananas with excitement. My father had a hard and fast rule that no presents got opened until Christmas morning. My poor little brother about came unglued trying to convince my father to let him open just one on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve I stayed awake almost all night with my sister. We knocked on my parents’ door around four in the morning trying to convince them that Santa had already come, but the rule was that the sun had to be up. Gahh! So close!
Anticipation cuts both ways. The joy of what is coming gets me so excited, but it also frustrates me. I want it now! As funny as it is to remember how worked up about toys I used to get, in many ways not much has changed. I started dreaming as a teenager, and many of those dreams still have not been realized. I have so many major things left on my bucket list. Frustration can turn into discouragement. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” (Proverbs 13:12 NKJV) I want it now!! Delayed gratification is overrated for character building.
THE GRASS IS GREENER
I probably have overly high expectations for myself, and I hate disappointing me. Throughout my life, I have struggled with being content with my present location on my journey. Maybe I’m just competitive, but I always want to be further along. This can twist me into major mental knots late at night unless I intentionally set down that tangle of thoughts and think about something totally different. When I was in my twenties, I had most of my life ahead of me and plenty of time for course corrections. Now, as I enter my late thirties, I am plagued with “the clock is ticking” thoughts. (I know–I’m still young. But I’m not as young as I was.)
Rational Anna tells me don’t freak out, that now is only temporary and that I’m still journeying forward, but Anxious Anna immediately dismisses this as irrelevant because right now, I want to be further ahead. I feel this compulsion to be doing what I want to do, not preparing for it. Sometimes it feels like my life is an eternal preparation for what is coming.
If I don’t put Anxious Anna in check, I get myopically consumed with pushing the next thing forward. Everything on the perimeter gets neglected. It’s so funny how it works for us humans. When we are at home, we chafe to get out and travel and find adventure. When we are on the road, we can’t wait to get home. The grass is always greener and so forth.
The good side of this internal push is that hopefully I will leave the planet a little better than I came into it. The ideal place to be is disciplined, pushing for a great future, yet at perfect peace with right now. Things will come to disrupt that peace (like the cabbie who sideswiped my car last night, grrr), but I am best positioned for making good choices for my family, and for my ministry and career when I live at peace in my heart.
SELAH: PAUSE AND REMEMBER
Every so often, I have to take a Selah moment to pause and remember. Not rushing over my thoughts on the way to another item on the to-do list. This is not an ordinary moment, but a quiet reflection, to pause and think about specific examples of his faithfulness to me. For me, they are glaringly obvious; I don’t have to think long. I remember the moments when God was gracious to me, giving me what I didn’t deserve. I remember the doors of opportunity that he opened for me. I remember the blessing of family and friends to love and who love me. I remember the financial freedom I have lived in most of my life. I remember how he made a little place for me in his plan of redemption.
It’s a little overwhelming when I identify it. It makes me incredibly grateful. Gratitude makes space for trust. No matter what the future holds, I trust in Jesus. No matter what the present pressures, I trust in Jesus. He knows the way I take, and he guides my steps as I submit myself to him. Then I allow appreciate to rise in my heart. As appreciate rises, so does my love for him and my readiness to trust.
These Psalms chart the course for my heart in those quiet moments.
“So thank God for his marvelous love, for his miracle mercy to the children he loves.” (Psalm 107:9 MSG)
“I’m thanking you, God, from a full heart, I’m writing the book on your wonders. I’m whistling, laughing, and jumping for joy; I’m singing your song, High God.” (Psalm 9:1-2 MSG)
“You did it: you changed wild lament into whirling dance; You ripped off my black mourning band and decked me with wildflowers. I’m about to burst with song; I can’t keep quiet about you. God, my God, I can’t thank you enough.” (Psalm 30:11-12 MSG)
“Thank God! He deserves your thanks. His love never quits. Thank the God of all gods, His love never quits. Thank the Lord of all lords. His love never quits.” (Psalm 136:1-3 MSG)
When my heart surges its wave of wild and free song of thanksgiving and love and joy, peace rides in with the surf that follows. Suddenly, what seemed so emotionally urgent and unsatisfactory a few moments ago fades as I find contentment in this moment, right now.
I pray that this Thanksgiving, you know the perfect peace that comes from this kind of gratitude.
“I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace.”–Jesus (John 14:27 MSG)
P.S. The poem may be a random addition, but it seemed to fit.
PAUSED ON THE RIDGE
How long will I wait here paused on this ridge?
Frozen seconds stretch out just to vanish ahead
Shells so fine and fragile imprison the hollow inside
Paper-thin brittle ice shaping present form yet hiding future function
The days turn over years and I gaze on still
Youth’s fire still ablaze in my heart
Time’s weight drags at my skin
But all still untouched yet within
I stand poised and ready for something
A bridge perhaps from here to there
Maybe that the fog that frames my stillness
Might dissipate into bright beams of clarity
Why do I hesitate?
What freezes my feet?
Today I gaze on, ever dreaming
Locked here, paused on the hill I have climbed.
Behind me, the hard-fought slopes I’ve taken
My feet now secure on the high place
The valley yawns below dusky and green, mysterious and obscured
In the distance—bare granite peaks yet to be climbed.