This Advent, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend a retreat led by Lisa Marquis. She shared her insights as a former consecrated woman and, now, the mother of a young family.
Of the many things Lisa said which touched my heart, sharing her feelings of not doing “enough” each Advent really struck a chord with me.
Each year, I make great plans for my own spiritual growth and that of my family. I aim to have my shopping and baking done early so that I can enjoy the holidays. Yet, when I miss a few family prayers around the Advent wreath or lose my patience as I’m wrapping last-minute gifts and peeling potatoes, I feel as though I’ve failed.
Lisa reminded us that Jesus appreciates all our efforts. He wants us to be ourselves and offer all that we can. With a pure desire to find him, Christ will meet us where we are. I needed to hear those words.
Mary is the perfect example of how to offer our best selves. Knowing that she was called to carry God’s son, she focussed on that priority. Her pregnancy came as a surprise and her delivery circumstances were less than desirable; yet, she put her trust in God.
When I was expecting my second child, I remember panicking as I thought I was going into labour four weeks early. I didn’t have my bag packed, I didn’t have the sleepers washed, I didn’t have a freezer full of casseroles. I was not ready; yet, I know that if it had been the baby’s time, I couldn’t have changed a thing, and everything would have been fine.
I need reminders like that false alarm from time to time, to recognize that my idea of preparation is usually not the same as God’s. After all, Mary didn’t have a meal ready to pop into the oven during her recovery; she probably didn’t even have a glass of clean water to drink. She didn’t have freshly washed receiving blankets; she received her son with an open heart.
During our retreat, we heard the lyrics to the song, Adoration by Newsboys. The lyricist wrote of how Jesus came “through the dust and the flies” then states, “Come let us adore him. He has come down into the world we live in and all I have to give him is adoration.”
Jesus came to earth, right into the dust and dirt, not into a fancy cradle in a colour-coordinated nursery. Why, then, do I restlessly place my focus on the arrangement of centrepieces or obsess over the dust on my window sill? Jesus is looking through that dusty window, just waiting for me to invite him in.
In his book Sanctuary: Creating a Space for Grace in Your Life, Terry Hershey reflects on creating personal places of reflection, restoration, and peace, even in the toughest of circumstances. He challenges his readers to “see heaven … in the cracks, fault lines, fissures, and suffering that are part of everyday life.”
Hershey shared what he has gleaned from the story of Jane Kenyon, a woman who battled bipolar disorder before her death to leukemia at age 48, as told in the book The Best Day the Worst Day, written by her husband, Donald Hall. Despite her challenges, Jane created a sanctuary, as seen in these words from her final days, “Trust God and be where you are.”
Isn’t that just what Mary did? She was young, far from home, exhausted, scared, and uncomfortable. Then, to top it all off, she had to give birth in a cave, surrounded by animals and curious shepherds; yet, she transformed that cave into a sanctuary by “trust(ing) God” and “be(ing) where (she was).”
This Christmas, instead of fretting over tangible preparations, I pray to create a sanctuary in my heart, so that I may follow Mary’s example and meet Jesus. As I prepare for our celebrations, I may not always feel “ready” by my own definition; however, if I seek to adore Christ in the dust, the wrappings, and even the potato peelings, he will receive me, imperfect as I am.
In the words of Lisa Marquis, “Jesus doesn’t need us to be ready; He needs us to come to him.”