It’s been years since I panicked. Since I felt the racing thoughts and the shortness of breath and the overwhelm. And it came in like a quick flash here and there, making me second guess my calm and security. Anxiety is violent and strange. It robs you blind and breaks the lock off the door. No matter how much you tell yourself that the door is closed, on this side of eternity it may never be bolted shut.
I felt it coming all afternoon, so I stayed busy. Cleaning the kitchen. Talking to friends. Watching a movie. But every moment, I felt it inching toward me. Finally, alone in my little house, it came. I walked from room to room, feebly reading scripture and trying to focus on peace. I opened the Book of Common Prayer and found a page entitled, “A Collect for Aid Against Perils.”
I began to read aloud in the guest room, alone.
“Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord.”
Nothing felt light. Everything was dark and heavy and as I finished that sentence, I put my fingers to my mouth and began to weep.
Advent is an ache. It is waiting in the dark for our Prince of Peace. It is a longing for Him to make things light.
I called a friend. I fell asleep. I woke up. I panicked.
There, on my bed, I lost it. I doubled over, clenched fists and bitter tears. Hopeless in the face of fear. Helpless as adrenaline pulsed through my veins. Slowly, I got up and packed my bags for a trip I had to take that afternoon. Every song was the wrong song on the radio. Every minute behind the wheel felt like forever. I passed cotton fields and was overcome with how something so beautiful can remind us of a history of such brokenness. It seemed that darkness was lurking in plain sight.
I know the cycle of anxiety. You force yourself to eat and drink water and get rest. Your mind gets up to run again and you have to tell it to sit back down. It’s hard to describe to those who haven’t felt the weight of fearing you might go mad.
All of this happened the week before Advent. The week before we’re supposed to sing of a coming King, our Prince of Peace. The Light in the darkness.
The Church calendar wasn’t something I was keenly aware of when I was younger. I knew about Advent and the candles that we would light, but I didn’t know that there were other seasons where candles were lit, or extinguished. I didn’t know there were times of fasting and feasting and that each new season brought traditions and perspective into our ordinary lives.
Some seasons came to me easier than others. Lent, for example. Give something up, think about the sacrifice of Jesus. Got it. Or, consider Eastertide. 50 days of celebration. Jesus is alive. YES. LET’S GO.
But Advent is this sort of mixed-signal season because everything around us says, “Dig In, Dig In, Dig In” but the season itself says, “Wait, Wait, Wait.” And for a long time, I assumed that meant it was basically a Lenten season. One with no fun and little settledness.
The first week of Advent, I found myself recovering, taking longs walks on a trip to Massachusetts, untangling the panic and trying to move into Advent. I felt that maybe it was appropriate to be somber and overcome with grief. Perhaps it was best for me to be buried by the fact that hope felt far off in those fragile days after clenched fists and tears.
But when I returned to Nashville, I walked into my Church and something had shifted. Poems were read about the light of Advent. Songs were sung about comfort. Slowly, I felt myself healing and being woken up to the strange reality that Advent is a both/and. It is a season of wait-for-it and here-we-go. And for a long time, I believed that the waiting had to ache. Had to be uncomfortable. Had to bring me low to a place of almost grief-like sadness. A season of waiting must mean that it was a season of crossing arms and furrowing brows. But what I’m realizing is that God gives us all of life in every season, no matter the way it bends. And as I came out into the light of recovering from anxiety, I felt light, which I wasn’t expecting. It was a glimmer here and there, but like a double-take, it surprised me.
By the second Sunday of Advent, I felt the last bit of the lingering nervous energy in the way my knee bounced while I sat and the way I fiddled with my pen during the sermon. At Eucharist, as we sang about the Child that would lead us all home, I walked forward and knelt at the front. As I did, in the corner of my eye, movement caught my attention as a little girl, not older than 14 months, stepped carefully on the kneeler. A thumb in her mouth and another hand clinging to her mother’s, she looked at me. I thought about the Christ child and how small and weak he must have been, but how full of Hope the world was at His arrival. I stood up, walking back to my seat and a smile broke across my face at the idea of that innocence — I felt the lightness again.
The pastor stood in the back, ready to pray and I was compelled to approach Him.
“There are good things, and there are hard things.” I explained.
He nodded as I continued, “And I just have this low hum of anxiety. Not enough to be afraid, but enough to make my mind bounce around too quickly.”
He put his hand on my shoulder and as he did, the pastor laughed.
“Um. Pax is right behind you.”
A boy named Pax (the latin word that signifies peace) was standing, waist-height, directly behind me, waiting for prayer himself. I wouldn’t have seen him if he hadn’t been brought to my attention. The Pastor prayed for joy and lightness. I carefully stepped around the little boy and returned to my seat, perplexed.
Perhaps this too is the Kingdom. Peace right behind us, as we stand unaware of its nearness. Peace that has to be pointed out by friends when our eyes don’t see it. Peace that comes in the form of laughter over FaceTime and new relationships and long walks on cold nights and dinner shared with dear ones. Peace found in trusting the unknown and placing our identity back in the hands of Jesus. Peace that is almost startling against the low hum of our anxiety.
Peace is a grace that makes us light. Even when we thought it was far off, it’s right behind us. Right in the middle of the ache and the longing and the unknown. A beautiful reminder that Advent is a season of waiting and struggle, but there is joy and healing and peace mixed in there, too.
This season may be dark and overwhelming. Or maybe, it’s tender and sweet and dear. Each of us is walking along, different tensions held, different weights carried.
But oh, may we lean into whatever place we find ourselves as we welcome the coming King. May we grieve and celebrate and ache and laugh hard. For Christ comes to us no matter where we are, Hope in our chaos. Peace just around the corner. Light in our darkness.