I wrote this for a publication who ended up not running it after all. Advent may have ended but I worked hard on this piece. Since there are 12 days of Christmas, I thought I'd publish it anyway. I'm still looking for the light in this season. Maybe you are, too.
As a child, I loved everything about Christmas. The carols, decorating the tree, the candlelight Christmas Eve services, and even the snow. The ultimate anticipation lay with what we might find beneath the tree. It was always worth the wait, even if I didn’t get everything on my Christmas list.
I believed waiting for something always ended with a resolution. You wait. You receive that which you’re waiting for.
Then I grew up and realized that’s not how life works. At least, not for most of us.
I check ring fingers reflexively. The guy reading a book while on MUNI, the musician at church, the man in front of me at a coffee shop. My eyes slip to his left hand before zeroing in on the ring finger. He is sorted, whether or not we ever actually interact.
A few months ago I sat in a room full of dear friends and told them falling in love seemed impossible. I cried as I confessed my deepest fear about the dream I’ve held since childhood: I’ll never get married.
I thought I’d marry straight out of college and have my first child in my mid-20s. Instead, it’s been a few years since my last promising date. No matter where I’ve lived, intriguing single men have proven hard to come by and I am left aching to share my life with someone.
Next month I’ll turn 36. I have an otherwise good life. Though I have plenty of years before me, falling in love no longer feels likely. There have been too many false starts. Too many years leaving me no closer to a long-term relationship. How on earth could it possibly happen now?
I’ve thought a lot about what it means to expectantly wait for a dream when there is no guarantee. I feel my singleness more keenly during the holidays. Advent reminds us we are waiting but I don’t need that particular reminder.
I am tired of waiting.
With Advent, we remember how long the world waited for a Savior. We read in Luke about Simeon who was promised he would not die before he had seen Christ and about Anna the Prophetess who “spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Luke doesn’t say how old Simeon was when he finally beheld the infant Jesus at the temple. I was taught he was a very old man. Anna is described as very old, a widow who was married only 7 years before her husband died. Sunday School lessons emphasized how blessed Simeon and Anna were. What amazing faith they had. They waited and they received.
For centuries the Israelites looked forward to a day when the Messiah would come at last and set them free. Centuries of waiting. How many Israelites died without seeing that dream realized?
They waited but they did not receive.
Did they give up hope? Did they have days like me where their dream seemed impossible? How did they resolve the tension between now and not yet in their lifetime?
Why were Simeon and Anna worthy while so many were not?
Waiting is not meant to be a passive activity. We choose how we will wait: with expectancy, bitterness, resignation, hope, excitement, boredom. Whatever it is I’m waiting for, I try to anticipate the goodness that might be around the bend. Emphasis on the word try.
Some years I’ve fared better than others. I’ve watched other dreams come to fruition. I’ve felt alive with the possibility: love could find me at any moment. It could all change in an instant. It’s still true but the possibility feels more and more distant. The dream of marriage is slipping through my fingers.
Even though I was raised in non-denominational Christian churches, I’ve never been good about memorizing scripture. There is one exception: Psalm 27:14. “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”
I stumbled onto it my junior year of college. Wait for the Lord. I’ve lassoed the edge of this verse in seasons of loss, stress, and frustration. It carried me through unemployment and underemployment, the death of loved ones, matters of social justice, and my conflicted feelings about still being single. It reassured me God was at work, some way, somehow, even if I couldn’t see it.
The longer I’ve been single, the more difficult it is to see how he is at work. There is no reason why I’m not married, other than not having met the right guy. In my lowest moments, I look at people who I deem less than me in some way and wonder why they have a spouse and I don’t. But there is simply no rhyme or reason.
This is the tension I must live with: the not knowing, the wait stretching year after year, the dream deferred.
I haven’t known how to approach the holiday season the last several years. On a day to day basis, I don’t often think about being single until something happens to remind me. Advent is a constant reminder of what I hope for and what I doubt I’ll receive.
Everything is geared around families, especially at church. Places of worship are no longer sources of refuge. They are a reminder of what I don’t have. It has become harder to darken a sanctuary door, even for those candlelight Christmas services I adored as a child.
Whereas I used to marvel over Simeon and Anna’s eleventh hour miracle, I feel more kinship with the Israelites who wandered and waited and never received.
On the first Sunday of Advent, I pulled out a book of readings. It will be my daily practice in the coming weeks as I strain to see the light. My God, how I need to see the light this season.
Christmas is tinged bittersweet, it’s true, but there is respite from the ache. I listen to Bing Crosby crooning White Christmas and watch Buddy the Elf run through a revolving door. My breath catches at the sight of Christmas trees aglow with white lights and handmade ornaments. I can’t wait until my family has toasted with eggnog.
I look at my loved ones who do not allow me to carry this burden alone. All of this reminds me God is the giver of all good gifts, even if I never receive the gift I want most.
I’m tired of waiting but Advent is here, helping me wait one more year.