Trampolines and Shower Laments (Advent for the Skeptical and Weary, Part 6)

Trampolines and Shower Laments (Advent for the Skeptical and Weary, Part 6)

I started this series because I started this season feeling skeptical and weary. If you want to catch up, I’ve written about my petulant Christmas card processseasonal depression, the difficulty of hope, and being burnt out on giving and serving. Also: whiskey, crappy chocolate, and our troubling President-elect. Yes, it’s been merry indeed.

But in my last post I started exploring something I hadn’t given much credence to in this series yet: Surprise.

Among the questions I was mulling over this Advent was this:

What to do in a season of giving when you feel like you have nothing more to give?

Infographic from Mercy Corps, which is assisting 470,000 Syrians every month.
Infographic from Mercy Corps, which is assisting 470,000 Syrians every month.

know there is no requirement—ethically, religiously, cosmically, socially, even personally—to give anything more in the weeks leading up to Christmas than at any other time of the year, but something about consciously observing Advent usually makes me want to. I had just written about how Advent looks forward to a better, more just and loving world. However, I also know that thinking of doing anything extra sounds stupid and masochistic when I’ve written so much about feeling spent. Like, hey idiot, just take a pass this year.

This would make sense if giving is only about meeting moral requirements. But it is also about participating in something. I want to participate in a world bigger than my own family. Coming up on Christmas, I wanted to give something beyond a small pile of toys to my kids. Because my kids are beloved, beyond beloved, beyond valuable to me, but the world is also bigger than my kids.

I was feeling particularly disturbed and upset about the violence in Syria. I was thinking of those kids, many of whom have died in bombed-out buildings or lost their parents the same way and in many areas of Aleppo, had no access to food other than bread at exorbitant prices. It was just messing with me. Beyond my normal Oh, that’s a shame.

There’s a remarkable organization called Mercy Corps that works to alleviate poverty, suffering and oppression all over the world in innovative ways. They’ve been active in Syria for years now, drawing attention to the suffering there long before most of the world took notice.

I didn’t have a ton of money to give them or any time to volunteer for them, and honestly, I wasn’t thinking about it that much because it seemed out of the question to do anything.

But one day (surprise) I got a fundraising letter in the mail from them, and as I was reading it, an idea popped into my head. Something I could do.

It was a particular, semi-unusual, behind the scenes kind of thing, and it wasn’t anything sweeping or heroic and I knew it would not sap my energy in the way that childcare or volunteering does.

My boys trampolining. They could raise a lot of money in a trampolineathon.
My boys trampolining. They could probably raise a lot of money in a trampolineathon.

I set up a fundraiser on the Mercy Corps site and sent an email to fifteen people I love, pledging to do this particular, semi-unusual, behind-the-scenes kind of thing for four days. It will remain behind-the-scenes, as I pledged to my friends it would be, so let’s just call it jumping on a trampoline. I told my friends I would donate a small bit of money to Mercy Corps each day for four days that I jumped on this trampoline, and asked if they would give some money too.

A bunch of them did, and we raised some money.

This doesn’t solve suffering in Syria. But no one, certainly no one person alone, can “solve” suffering in Syria. We can bring our little offerings.

It was, to me, an echo of what I’d recently remembered: accepting the ways you can serve. My problem, perhaps, not being with a life of service, but in contorting myself into serving in ways I honestly can’t, right now.

Surprise.

℘℘℘

Let’s return for a minute, though, to the topic of burnout.

What if a “season of giving” finds you in need of receiving?

The sanctuary of my little backyard. It's easier to get sanctuary in the summer.
The sanctuary of my little backyard. It’s easier to get sanctuary in the summer.

Obviously, we each have some responsibility for our own well-being. Anyone in a helping profession (or parenting) must learn this truth eventually—that any life of service must involve intentional self-care. Must.

And it’s not like I don’t try. Especially because I’m prone to wintertime depression, I know I need to do certain things: exercise, and sit in front of that light box, and eat well, and get some time alone without kids needing things from me, and various other things.

All that helps, but truthfully, sometimes it isn’t possible to get enough energy-replenishing things to equal the energy going out. It just isn’t. Especially with young children. No matter how helpful your spouse is.

Therefore, I’ve been praying like a child this Advent. Sometimes like a cranky child. I stand in the shower, which is one of the only places I can be alone, and I silently, grumpily bark at God: “I don’t have any more energy for taking care of people. I am spent. I’m trying to take care of myself the best I can. It is never enough. Something is missing. I NEED YOU TO DO THE REST. It’s Christmas and I’m planning all these surprises for other people. I NEED SURPRISE.”

If, to my nonreligious friends, this sounds childish—yes, it definitely is.

On the other hand, maybe it beats the alternative many of us choose, which is trying to maneuver the people around us into making us happy.

And I’ll leave it there—with me, befuddled and lamenting and asking for surprises in the shower—until next week, the conclusion of Advent for the Skeptical and Weary.

 

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