Listen to parts of Ann Weems’ poem “This Year Will Be Different”:
Who among us does not have dreams that this year will be different?
Who among us does not intend to go peacefully, leisurely, carefully toward Bethlehem,
for who among us likes to cope with the commercialism of Christmas
which lures us to tinsel not only the tree but also our hearts?
Who among us intends to get caught up in tearing around and wearing down?
Who among us does not long for:
gifts that give love?
shopping in serenity?
cards and presents sent off early?
long evenings by the fireside with those we love?…
This year we intent to follow the Star instead of the crowd.
But, of course, we always do intend the best.
She nails it for me. I’m right there with her. Or is it just me? Am I the only one to want Advent and the journey toward Christmas to be different? Stress-less, hassle free, and peace among all people (especially families). More about people than presents, Jesus than tinsel, anticipation than anxiety.
My problem is that I want it all. I want to tend to my spirit AND my Christmas tree. I love people and giving presents (especially the perfect ones). I want to eat all the cookies and still lose 5 pounds. Basically, I want things to be different, but I don’t want to change what I’m doing. A sure sign of insanity, I know. But I think I come by it honestly. I think it is simply a human trait.
Take a look at part of the Isaiah passage (11:1-4a, 6, 9) we read in conjunction with this poem:
The wolf will dwell with the lamb,
And the leopard will lie down with the young goat;
The calf and the lion cub will graze together,
And a little child will lead them.
There will be no harm, no destruction
Anywhere in my holy mountain,
For as water fills the sea,
So the land will be filled with knowledge of Yahweh.
Apparently we’ve always wanted things to be different… perfect even… but things haven’t changed much socially and politically in the last 2,000 years.
I wonder, was the prophet Isaiah simply dreaming when he foresaw a new leader from the line of Jesse who would make everything perfect? They would bring a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and strength, a spirit of knowledge and reverence for God. Suddenly people would delight in serving God, wouldn’t judge others by their appearances, or make decisions without the facts. Poor people would be treated fairly and with justice. And then everyone and everything that was normally pitted against each other would live in harmony. There would be no harm or destruction because all would be filled with the knowledge of God. Wow. How amazing would that be?
By the way – the reference to the little child leading them was not originally about any specific child. It was simply a symbolic image, a pastoral setting where a young child led all the animals like a shepherd. We hear this passage every year at this time because it was the hope that the child Jesus would usher in this era of peace. Surely with this child things would be different! Jesus didn’t magically bring those things, but we still hope he will. We don’t only hope our personal lives will be filled with harmony and peace, we want that for the world, too. We want this year to be different for everyone.
So, this brings us back to our dilemma: we want things to be different, but we don’t necessarily want to change. We want the world to be more peaceful, but we’re irritated beyond belief at the person in front of us driving 5 mph under the speed limit. We haven’t figured out how to be peaceful inside ourselves… so how can we bring peace to the world?
It’s (painfully) clear to me that if we really want something to be different, whether it is a big something or a little something, we need to actively work to make it different. I’ve been reading a book that reminded me of this, and offers one way to try to move forward so that perhaps this year might really be different.
The book suggests that if not getting what we want causes us to suffer, then we know we are too attached to the outcome. We are not fully aligning with life, but to our view of how things are “supposed” to be. It is the difference between aligning with our preferences and our ego, or aligning with the flow of life. Becoming clear with ourselves about the difference takes time, attention and energy. The process though is simple, it entails answering three questions:
What do we want? What is reality? Taking that into account, what do we REALLY want?
First we determine what our preference is, what we want in any given situation. Then we examine the reality of the situation. Finally, we ask ourselves what we really want by going beyond the surface of the desire to the depths of our yearning. Then determine if we can give that quality to ourselves.
For example, I want a Christmas day with my kids.
The reality is that my kids are with me on Christmas Eve (which I also wouldn’t change), and then they head to Chicago to be with their dad’s family. The reality also is that we spend at least part of Christmas day with my wife’s family… which is not particularly stress-free, but important to her.
If I were too attached to what I wanted, it would make me miserable. Instead, aligning to the flow of life means accepting that Christmas is what it is. Then I ask myself again what I really want. Well, I want to feel the spirit of Christmas – joy, love, and laughter, being with people I care about, enjoying a nice meal and wallowing in the end of a busy season with a nice glass of red wine.
This year offered a new solution. Turns out our friends and neighbors across the street will also not be spending Christmas day with kids (as was hoped) so that night we’ll make their traditional Christmas meal and enjoy some wine, friendship, and cribbage. And I will get what my spirit yearns for, maybe not in the exact form I hoped for, but that piece has to be let go.
Maybe change isn’t so bad after all. Maybe this year can be different.
Love & Light!