In the previous blog, we looked at the season of Advent, a time on the Christian calendar that marks a new beginning, an opportunity to observe our busy and frantic life and choose, instead, to live according to a different rhythm, a sacred rhythm. Embedded in the Christian calendar is a kind of ancient psychology, as if God is saying, “Participate in this and you’ll find the refreshment and freedom you’re longing for.”
In this Advent season, we begin to see how desperate we are – how our restless striving gets us nowhere. As Thomas Merton once said, “We may spend our whole life climbing the ladder of success, only to find when we get to the top that our ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.” We’re faced with the futility of finding that financial freedom that will help us feel secure, or that sexual relationship that will make the loneliness go away, or the perfect religious practice which will unleash perfect inner peace. But with the wise writer of Ecclesiastes, we cry out, “Meaningless. Meaningless. All of these things are a chasing after the wind.” Control is unattainable.
The prophet Habakkuk, on the other hand, laments not merely personal woes, but society’s injustices crying:
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous— therefore judgment comes forth perverted. — Habakkuk 1:2-4
“How long?” Habakkuk cries, as he looks around and sees exploitation and violence, corruption and discord. And we, too, are invited to cry “How Long?” You see, as we slow down and consider why we’re so busy, we see that we’re often just numbing ourselves – to our own pain, to life’s injustices. We’re busy because we’re lonely, and we’re not sure God will ever answer the prayer for a spouse. We’re frantic because we’re insecure and anxious, not sure if our boss is seeing the hard work we’re doing. We’re exhausted because we’ve placed our hope in financial success, only to our family disintegrating amidst the relentless striving. We’re perplexed because we hoped that a politician or a policy would bring the hope we so desperately long for. We’re dismayed at the continuing acts of terror abroad, and the threat that they may again invade our shores.
This is our prayer in Advent. Will you give yourself permission to pray it? Many will not. It feels too raw. Or, perhaps it hints at a lack of control, something we can’t admit or afford. Maybe this prayer feels like something you pray when you’re at your end, and it’s just not that time yet. Maybe it feels too vulnerable, and you’ve learned that vulnerability isn’t safe or good.
Just the other day, a woman was standing behind me at Walgreens, waiting in a fairly long line and vigilantly observing the cashier, a young woman who was attempting to get a customer to sign up for the Walgreens Rewards Card. Under her breath, she kept saying, “Why…why…why?” I suspect her anxiety masked a greater longing, a longing to once and for all be delivered from the constraints and frustrations of life. I peered back to see an older woman with a cane, her arm shaking as she tried to support her weight along with a basket of groceries. She looked at me as if to say, “Life is unfair.” However, as I asked her to take my place on line, it was if a thousand pounds of emotional weight was lifted. “Thank you, thank you,” she said. I was her rescuer.
But our cry goes deeper. Our “How Long?” is heard by a King who longs to set the world right. He hears the groaning not only of his people, but his entire creation (Romans 8), and validates our restless cries. This God does not patronize, or criticize, or condemn our frustration. No. What this season reminds us of is that this God listens and responds, breaking through into our reality as a child born in a manure-filled stable, born into inconvenience, injustice, frustration, and futility. And this God, this Rescuer, comes to make it all right.
When we cry “How Long?” we invite this Rescuer to invade our reality with redeeming love. We break the numbing cycle of busyness, avoidance, and denial. We open ourselves vulnerably to God’s love, God’s redemption, God’s freedom. It’s a radical prayer to pray because it is desperate, it is honest, it is risky. In fact, we may be disappointed along the way. God doesn’t promise a quick fix. God’s way of freedom comes with bold prayers and frequent sufferings, but it brings a better Hope.
So, join the ancient voices. Participate in the ancient rhythm. Find your life redeemed and restored in a Story bigger than your own, through a God would become subject to the same futility you experience.
- What personal struggles cause you to want to cry out “How long?”
- What societal and/or cultural “brokenness” (e.g. poverty, sex slavery, rampant consumerism) stirs you to cry out “How long?”
- Can you relate to the woman on line at Walgreens? Are there ordinary, everyday frustrations which tap into a deeper longing?
- What hope do you draw from this post? Is there a sense in which you can see through the brokenness of your life and the world and glimpse the Hope of God coming in the person of Jesus to rescue you?