Advent for the Skeptical and Weary

I guess I’ll start with the Christmas cards.

Most years, if I even manage to get cards out, I make them myself. Last-minute. Stapled together with a couple of Instagram pictures printed out on our low-toner inkjet. I actually like it this way. Punk Rawk Xmas!

We’d never had a professional family portrait, until a few weeks ago. I had a gift certificate to a friend’s photo studio, and after an hour or two of trying to get the boys to stop fighting over the fake snow, we ended up with a handful of beautiful, silly photos.

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So I started browsing those holiday-card websites, thinking we’d do ‘em up proper this year.

Now, apparently—if the designer templates are to be believed—the new Christmas card hotness is the inclusion of a Top 5 list of all your family’s 2016 accomplishments.  The card companies offer several helpful examples, like:

  1. Dale got a promotion!
  2. We moved to a bigger house!
  3. Kylie’s soccer team won the championship!
  4. We bought a boat!

…et cetera.

It is hard to think of better bait for the snarky teenager in me. Immediately, the alternative lists began writing themselves.

The Hinsts had a banner year!

  1. Jen quit her job!
  2. Milo crapped in the tub! Regularly!
  3. Charlie swallowed his own tooth!
  4. We’re pretty anxious about the impending presidency!

…and so on.

The reason for all this snark is not envy. I love our little house, in part because it’s little. Promotions can be great…or they can plunder your personal time. And, to be honest, I hope our kids never play soccer. (This is just laziness on my part. So much driving around.)

I guess it’s just this: These kind of lists, these shiny happy public markers of familial success, just feel empty to me. Every year, honestly, but particularly this Christmas. It just doesn’t feel like it matters, for a lot of reasons—some personal, some political, many of which I will write about in the next month.

But in essence, maybe it’s this:

Christmas celebrates a God born in a stinky cave, into a family who soon became refugees. He spent his life in the company of outsiders. His love was disruptive and scandalous. Winning and success, he taught, can be hazardous to your soul.  Wealth and reputation can be hazardous to your soul. Looking good can be hazardous to your soul. In light of that—I just feel embarrassed, sending out some polished flattering portrait of my family, like it’s a promo piece for The Hinsts!  Take a picture of me looking despondent in my pajamas, maybe. Or call me back when I’m living better, when I’m living a life of gutsier love. 

To which my reasonable husband would probably reply, with considerable wisdom: Jen, they’re just Christmas cards. 

All right. Out of my angst-ridden head, then, and back to planet earth. It did seem like a waste not to use my friend’s lovely photos. So in a fit of petulance or possibly just silliness (it might have been both) I did make up a Christmas card. And then I captioned it like I was fifteen freakin’ years old.

THIS IS NOT OUR REAL HOUSE,
WHICH IS A MESS,
AND HALF THE TIME
OUR KIDS ARE NOT WEARING PANTS.

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Welcome, then, to the first of a month’s worth of musing: Advent for the Skeptical and Weary.

Truth: I am both weary and skeptical these days. Weary short-term because I’m struggling, as I do most winters, through a seasonal depression. Weary long-term because I’m both a working writer and the mother of two small boys, aged two and six, which means I do a lot of care-taking. Before I quit my church job this year, I did even more care-taking. And this brings me to skeptical. When you’ve done a lot of care-taking—enough to suck you dry—you start to doubt a doctrine of selfless service.

I am figuring some stuff out.

How do you enter a season of giving when there isn’t much left to give?

How do you celebrate hope when you’re not sure what you’re hoping for?

For what am I watchfully waiting?

Hello, Advent.

 Read on in Part 2: The Light Box.

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