From Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent
For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God; night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith? Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you. And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
(1 Thessalonians 3:9-13)
It can be scary to admit to ourselves that we are experiencing doubts. We might readily and falsely assume that feelings of doubt must equate to not being good enough Christians or some other internal default that we alone encounter. We slip into periods of questioning God or teetering on the line of resignation for many reasons. No clear guidelines exist on when doubt, and during those seasons, it does little good to conjure experiencing seasons of doubt, and during those seasons, it does little good to conjure up all the possible ways we must be spiritual failures. Sometimes the most helpful thing to do is courageously share our journey with others in our faith community. Often the face of God looks strangely like people in our very midst.
Advent is a fitting time to remember that we are all members of the body of Christ. Individual efforts do not sustain faith. We need the spirit of God to assist us in all things, but we also need each other. Saint Paul was aware of this as he wrote the letter to the Thessalonian Christians so long ago. “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face-to-face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith,” (1 Thessalonians 3:10). We need to learn to rely on one another in all seasons of our lives and to practice being present with those with whom we share community on a regular basis. Let us imagine a believing community that exhibits hope and belief to those who find themselves wearied by the spiritual journey. This collective bearing of strengths and struggles is one way we, as a unified body of Christ, learn to faithfully wait together for the coming fullness of God’s kingdom.
How do we extend hospitality to the doubting parts of our collective body by inviting our friends and family to share openly of their faith journeys? How can God strengthen our hearts as we learn to admit our weaknesses to ourselves, to each other, and to God? We might do well to remind ourselves of periods in our lives where we truly sensed God’s presence or to read through those passages of scripture that witness to God’s faithfulness and steadfastness. The gift beneath all this is that God is indeed near whether we feel it or not. What a relief that God’s reality and trustworthiness does not depend on our feelings. And God can be trusted with all our emotions and all our hungers, pains, fears, and doubts. The reason we are called to wait on God during Advent is because God always shows up. While we wait on God, we can lean into the believing community that trusts with us and for us. Hope and belief can be shared within the body of Christ.
Trinitarian God, you made us in your own image. As the body of Christ we are called to strengthen, encourage, and sustain one another. As we learn to acknowledge our humanity, steep us in the grace that enables us to step into the gap of faith for one another. Amen.