All around us, there’s a great celebration going on. Or so it seems, anyway. From the high street shops through to social media through to church services, it’s all celebration. As writers, we might feel under compunction to wax lyrical about the joy of it all, and ignore any Advent shadows. We don’t want to bring people down, after all, not in this time of light and peace on earth.
So what happens if disappointment sits on our shoulder, whispering in our ear? The Herald Angels may sing, but other voices are singing louder, hissing at us. It’s not a Silent Night for us, or if it is, perhaps the silence is dark and gloomy, not peace-filled and hope-tinged. We might be disappointed because of so many things, and Christmas can seem, to some, like another disappointment in the long line. It’s tiring.
Can I tell you a little of my disappointments? One month ago, my first book was launched. I’d prepared a variety of events for the launch week, from a big party through to radio interviews and speaking at a conference. I was so excited, so blown away that it had got to this stage. It had been a long and exhausting road, and I’d got to the prow of the hill at last. Time to break out the champagne and celebrate!
Except it didn’t happen.
Well, the book got launched. The launch party happened. It all went smoothly, except for the small problem that I got sick.
This isn’t unusual for me. It was always going to be a distinct possibility, because I’m chronically ill and get sick a lot. But I’d hoped, hoped beyond hope, and I’d prayed. And so many had prayed for me. But it wasn’t to be. I got sick, and I got admitted to hospital. For two weeks, in the end.
The disappointment was stark and cut through me. I missed my own book launch, then so much else, not least a break I’d planned with my husband to celebrate (that word again!) It just didn’t seem fair, somehow, after all the work I put into it (or at least, this is what I said to God in sulky voice, one night when it all became too much).
Yet it wasn’t just a disappointment. It was a celebration – just a different kind of celebration. The kind where you sit in a hospital bed, fighting pain, and spot the work of God within what’s happening. In the voices of others who supported me and launched it for me, in the love of others who upheld me and prayed for me, and in the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, who whispered hope at me, and who never let me go. And I found that when I let go of the bitterness around the disappointment, something else had room to take hold. Something like joy, but not a joy based in passing circumstances. The joy God longs to lavish on all God’s children, wherever they stand (or sit). The joy of the Lord is our strength, Nehemiah says (8v10), and this is what I find again and again, when I choose to dig for it and reach for it.
It doesn’t temper the disappointment. That’s as stark as ever. When I went to church last week, for the first time in three months, I cried when I saw a poster left on the wall from my book launch – which was, ironically, a quote from my book about disappointment – I’m leaving it here for you to see today. Somehow, in that quote the disappointment and the celebration mixed together, bringing tears of joy and sadness – what a mess that made!
Are you disappointed today? Are you struggling with all the Christmas stuff because it just hurts too much, or it’s too painful? Are you simply too weary for it all?
May you find the celebration with the disappointment. May you glimpse streaks of light on the horizon, the dawn to come, the love of God poured forth in the astonishing incarnation of Jesus, the Christ child who brings hope in the greatest of darkness. May you catch the joy God longs you to know today, an unspeakable knowledge of who God is and God’s passionate and outrageous love for you.
May you discover soul celebration – even at the heart of your desperate disappointment. And may you find Christmas joy in the impossible, peace in the chaos, and inexplicable, incomprehensible love in the hurting.
Liz Carter is an author and blogger who likes to write about life in all its messy, painful, joyous reality. She’s never known life without pain and sickness, and wonders what it feels like to breathe freely. She likes Cadbury’s and turquoise, in equal measure, and lives in the UK with her husband, a church leader, and two crazy teens.Liz is the author of Catching Contentment: How to be Holy Satisfied, which was published by IVP in November. This book digs into the lived experience of a life in pain, and what contentment could possibly mean in difficult circumstances.
Feature photo by jurre wolters on Unsplash