From several aisles over in a cluster of crowded check-out lines, as we each awaited our opportunity to pay apparently “applause worthy” prices, I heard a little boy wailing.
This caterwauling demanded an aural audience, although most folks were careful not to look. With scalding tears painting his face, the inconsolable toddler howled, “I want a....,” but the object of his desiring was muffled.
I want a toy?
I want a dog?
Even with innumerable chances to ascertain what he continued to lament in an auto-pilot replay loop, my sleuthing skills failed. Monosyllabic for sure, but what he wanted was a mystery.
I found this fortuitous.
Since I was not his parent, I felt only sympathy for his mother who was surely dying a thousand cacophonous deaths of humiliation, because her bellowing brood was determined to howl his tiny anguish, and showed no signs of wearying.
The Tiny Weeping Prophet
I also sympathized with the tiny weeping prophet who was for those with “ears to hear” introducing us all to ourselves.
I’m sure he’d be surprised, although disinterested to know, that I have experienced similar interior dissatisfactions which made me want to moan in the midst of Christmas shopping ventures. But unlike the little tyke, I have learned how impolite it is to scream incessantly, at least in public.
He could get away with it. I might become institutionalized if I started wailing as shopping makes me want to do. Unlike him, I have a job I would like to keep.
But I could certainly identify with the clamorous yet muffled want of that distressed little fella who’d suffered the always unsettling pain of being told no.
Had he and I enjoyed a moment of discussion, I’d sure try to reassure him, “The toy being denied you won't do the trick that you're hoping for.”
He would have likely rolled his eyes, kicked me in the shins, told me to get a life and to stop trying to reason with distressed young people. And he would have been right.
Whether his wailing proved advantageous to him or not, and I suspect it didn’t, it was beneficial for me to reflect on an Advent aspiration.
When Wanting is a Matter of Life and Death
You see, his wanting felt like a matter of life and death to his tiny soul. What he couldn’t suspect but we should is that our loudest cravings are often misplaced longings.
As I asked one of my sons about our neighbor’s new white labrador puppy, he demonstrated the nature of these longings. To capture what her adorableness had awakened in him he said, “You just want to eat her, she’s so fluffy.”
Of course, he had no intention of actually eating this puppy he loved belonging to a family that he adored as well. Eating a fluffy dog would be neither appetizing nor advised.
But the encounter with such precious diminutive beauty evoked a longing to somehow to be part of it. CS Lewis understood this as part of a deep pining in us:
“We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”
The pining, longing, aching thingy in us, which we don’t talk about much and which we’re always expecting to sate proves elusive. “We remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy.”
Those Hard To Reach Soul-Itches
That surely accounts for the pre/post Christmas funks that come on us like a virus. We’re trying to create something that we’ve always wanted...flirting with nostalgia, gifts, and traditions that seem so promising for scratching this hard-to-reach itch in our inmost places.
We have muffled wants, inarticulate longings, and driving desires.
And I suspect that laughter, tears or full smothering suppression wind up being our favored tactics for handling the mysterious desires within us that demand and moan like that little boy clamoring for a toy, but are never quite satisfied.
But I’m determined this pre-Christmas moment, like the tantrum throwing half-pint, to pay attention to my own muffled wants, even if they sometimes irritate me like a rock stuck in my shoe.
A Humiliating Career
One way I'm going to do that is meditating on the aspect of Jesus’ career Ricky Bobby didn’t quite grasp concerning our Savior’s diaper-donning infanthood.
The incarnation, it turns out, was the beginning of what thoughtful men without the Internet coined 400 years ago as Jesus’ “estate of humiliation.”
And while not the career path that most of us sacrifice to afford our children, God himself, with gut-shaking compassion for the rescue of the world, sent his son on a necessary voyage of humiliation. A career of being un-welcomed, misunderstood, alone, sorrowful, and swimming with groaning grief.
That career began with what a tender-hearted professor of mine once called the most tragic words in the Scriptures: “He came to that which was his own but his own received him not."
This matters to your Christmas self that will soon feel “like you've just gotten over a long illness.” The house will be a mess. You’ll be cranky, fatigued, and broke with January bills to pay AND have a sneaking suspicion of the sort you might scribble in a journal or mutter with melancholy to the God you hope is listening but would probably not say aloud:
Is this it?
When it's over and the magic didn't stay with you… You came up close to it, but it vanished like the defrosted precipitation on your windshield during your morning commute, and a deflated ugghh slips from your lips, what can you do? What can we do?
Guided by Groans
My aim is to be guided by my groans.
When nothing tastes, internal distress is high, and unrest is simmers to a boil, I’m hoping my groans will guide me to re-remember that I’m living in between the verses of the best Christmas songs.
Sure, “the hopes and fears of all the years, are met in thee tonight.” I believe it with all my heart. But the realization of the full sadness dissolving hopes and fear-eradication that we earnestly count on Jesus to fulfill, may not happen by next Tuesday. So if I am groaning, I can remember I am waiting for Someone to chase away anguish. Without my groans, I sometimes forget.
And since he was so adept at dwelling with his own anguish in a fragile body like ours, he’s expertly competent for aiding us in our dismay and not at all frustrated to hear about it.
I’ll also remember each time I feel a pang of unmet longing that some of what I crave is what the Scriptures call, “unfailing love” which is sometimes given the lovely gloss of loving-kindness. I’ll let my groans remind me that my incarnated Savior came as evidence of a sturdy, “knows-all-but-will-not-turn-his-face-away” loving-kindness from God that’s meant to give us confidence that not only are we not cosmic orphans any more, but we have an expectation of “joy beyond the walls of this world” to come from the welcome instead of judgment we’ll one day receive from God our Father.
But as the Apostle John reminds, I’ll never fully know it except as I seek to show it!
“No one has ever seen God but if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us.” (I John 4)
An Absorbing Errand
Of course the inconceivable gift of God’s implantation of his life in mine, the Holy Spirit, available to any who wish to be remade and are willing to offer themselves up to Christ for spiritual reconstruction, brings a stirring and sweet knowledge of His unfailing love. But not entirely complete and fulfilled. Christianity is a relational-sharing enterprise!
If my preoccupation is to receive love from God and others, I’ll never know the relief I crave. But if I endeavor to show what I wish to know, then I can come to receive a renewing kind of relief as can the object of my serving care.
Henry James wrote:
“Upon my word I’m not happy. I am clever enough to want more than I have got. I’m tired of myself, my own thoughts, my own affairs, my own eternal company. True happiness, we are told consists in getting of one’s self, but the point is not only to get out—you must stay out; and to stay out you must have some absorbing errand.”
Christ’s absorbing errand was winning a world in revolt back to Him who could cure her. Every aspect of his restoration of all things demanded, as all love does, giving himself away.
I’m hoping to let my groans guide me to the “absorbing errand” of living generously in life and wallet...seeking to show the love that I partially know and long to see completed.
Perhaps as we give ourselves, in reliance upon our love-increasing Savior who has mingled his life in ours, to the absorbing and endlessly creative errand of loving our neighbors through our self-donation, there might just be some surprising “thrills of hope” that make “the weary” Christmas “world rejoice.”
Contact Eric Youngblood, pastor of Rock Creek Fellowship on Lookout Mountain, at firstname.lastname@example.org