I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about the feeling we sometimes get when we’re stuck in kind of an existential tug-of-war between our present circumstances and our dreams for the future.
You probably know the feeling…it’s that sense of frustration we often have when our current obligations feel at odds with our deeper yearnings.
I’ve come to know it as a sense of holy discontent.
And I think the reason it makes us so uncomfortable is because, when your dreams are real, when you have a clear awareness of what The Next Thing is (call it a sense of calling, or purpose, or vocation if you like) it’s like you’re living in this tension where it’s “here but not yet.”
It’s like you can see and feel and smell and taste it.
But it’s just…out…of…reach.
It just hasn’t emerged yet into reality.
The Next Thing
I’ve learned that my tendency (I’m a 7 on the Enneagram) is to try to resolve that tension by moving as quickly as I can from what has me stuck into whatever The Next Thing is.
For me, it’s part of an almost constant state of restlessness. And even though I’ve learned to live with that and have developed coping strategies, the draw of The Next Thing is always strong.
But it’s not always healthy to move impulsively from one thing to another too quickly.
Sometimes we have to sit with the tension.
Sometimes we have to welcome the darkness.
Sometimes we need to listen to what it has to teach us.
To see what we can’t necessarily see in the light.
And I think maybe that’s part of the beauty of Advent.
Maybe Advent gives us not only a season to rest and wait liturgically, but also a pattern for how we sometimes need to rest and wait before rushing headlong into The Next Thing.
Running to the light
I suspect one of the reasons we tend to rush through Advent to get to Christmas is that we naturally want to get out of the darkness and into the light.
Suffering as I do from Seasonal Affective Disorder, I get it. To me the worst part about winter isn’t the cold. It’s the short days and long nights.
But for the medieval Christians who first co-opted pagan Solstice festivals to celebrate Jesus’ birthday, there would have been no such rush.
These were pre-modern agrarian people who understood better than we do the rhythms and cycles of the natural world.
Winter for them was not just an unproductive season to get through as fast as possible to start creating commerce again.
It was the time the land rested and renewed itself.
And so did they.
The existential darkness of deconstruction
One of the things I learned during my spiritual deconstruction and reconstruction was that I couldn’t rush through it.
There was no shortcut to get me past the feelings of frustration and anxiety that came with dismantling an untenable belief system and trying to construct a (for me) healthier and more integral way of being in the world.
That brought on a lot of tension. A lot of existential darkness.
But by learning to sit with the darkness, I began to notice that the light was coming. On its own. With no intervention on my part whatsoever.
I didn’t have to rush towards it.
I just needed to trust that it was there.
Instead of striving for it, I had to learn to be carried into it.
It feels like suffering because it is
Maybe this Advent season finds you in a place where you feel stuck between where you are and where you want to be.
Maybe you’re experiencing a sense of holy discontent.
Maybe you’re desperately ready for The Next Thing.
But maybe you also need to sit in the tension for a bit.
Maybe you need to welcome the darkness.
Maybe you need to rest.
Because The Next Thing, whatever it is, is going to require your best. All the energy and passion and emotion you can bring to it.
I know you’re anxious to get on with it.
You can almost taste the excitement of what it will be like when you can move from whatever makes you feel stuck to whatever you know will bring you life.
I’m not going to lie. Sometimes it will suck.
Sometimes it will feel like suffering. Because it is.
But let the darkness do its work.
Let it give you the rest you need.
Let it teach you to live in the tension between what is and what’s not yet.
And let it carry you to the light.