A bracing Arctic cold has locked us in ice. We flee indoors for warmth, but as clutter and dust accumulate, so does restlessness. As the minutes pile up, my mind turns inward. The world narrows.
I am eager to bid December 2017 goodbye. Apropos with the barren tree limbs clawing the frozen sky, this year has closed in unsettling notes. First was a crisis at church, which afflicted many of us with grief and doubt. How do you steer others in a steady faith, when your own is shaken?
Then, a few exhausting weeks with Pip culminated in a declaration, through tears, of, “Mum, I feel anxious all the time.” He lamented over loud noises, and crowds, and how when other kids sing “it sounds like screeching.” I realized his sensitivities penetrate far deeper than amusing idiosyncrasies; they catapult him into a continuous state of stress. The revelation pressed upon my heart like lead, and my own tears soaked his cheek as I held him and rocked. We need help for him. But how, and from whom? How do we avoid misdiagnosis, when sensory processing disorder didn’t make the most recent version of the DSM? How do I bear the burdens of mother, educator, and now psychologist and occupational therapist? God, please, how do I do this?
Atop that, the usual strains of the holiday season — a time when we should anticipate our Lord’s coming, and revel in God’s goodness — closed in. Gifts became an obligation, rather than an issuing of love. Pettiness, criticism, and fear eroded away joy. The trappings of Christmas, with its peppermint aromas, incandescent lights, and evergreen splendor, felt perfunctory, rather than celebratory.
In the midst of it all, despair seeped in, its black fingers scrawling icily along my veins. I awoke each day dreading the moment something would go awry — because something always did. Movements felt sluggish. The mundane seemed impossible. My life, it seemed, was awash, a fleeting burst of energy and light now wasted on bitterness and worry. Daily I searched for joy; nightly, I collapsed exhausted, bereft, and empty.
I turned to Philippians 4 to help Pip. In my homeschooling mom mode, I sought to guide him in the Word through his own clearly articulated experience with anxiety (“You know, when you feel afraid, and really tired, and just don’t feel good?”). I strained to serve God in my role, even while in everything I felt ineffective.
As I read the words, they struck my own heart like a firebolt through the dark.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:4-7)
The world will always fail us. It cannot keep its promises. It cannot secure hope. It will betray; it will overwhelm; it will numb us with drudgery. It is broken, and we are broken, and life will not accede to our carefully-crafted plans. The ice will come. The bulbs will burn out. The tears will fall.
When our joy depends on our circumstances, it never stays. It loses its footing, and tumbles downstream. It dissipates in a puff of vapor, even while we reach for it with fingers splayed wide in the empty air.
Through Christ alone, God offers us a joy that lasts. Through the Spirit, he builds within us a deep well from which we draw living water when our lives wither and crack. He alone brings peace. He alone guards our hearts and minds, so that when the tempests churn, and the bleakness descends, we stay afloat, and cling to the joy we know.
I lost sight of His sovereign goodness, and his wonderful peace, this December. With the Word steeling my mind, I now regard the landscape encased in white, and see the sunlight spilling across the waiting snow. I feel the warmth that burns even through the frigid cold. I cannot see every divot or bend in the path ahead, but guided by the light that overcomes all shadow (John 1:5), I know we are safe. I know that joy is not contingent upon my success or failings. It rests not upon my own broken foundations, but rather issues forth from the One who made heaven and earth, who has triumphed even over death. (Ps 121:2, 2 Tim 1:10) I know we have a hope like no other, crafted before the world began, enveloped in His undying love.
My prayer this New Year, is that we may look past our paltry strivings, and open the floodgates to the joy that surpasses all understanding. May we loosen our grip upon the world, and lean into the peace that persists, and the hope that burns, even when the days seem to trudge forward interminably, even when we ache for respite from the dark cold. Even when desolation locks us in its grasp, the naked branches teetering in the wind, we have a joy that stays. In Jesus Christ, we have a living hope that spurs us on.