Hope sparks the season

If I’m honest, I used to dread the dark days of December.

The bitter cold, disappearing daylight, distracted drivers, crowded stores, finances stretched thin. It all was enough to make me want to hole up and hibernate until the holidays passed.

I know I’m not the only one who has experienced anxiety at the thought of having to balance holiday events and meaningful festivities with everyday workloads and neverending to-do lists. Several years ago I found solace in starting to more intentionally observe the season of Advent. Not only has this practice made the month more bearable, but it has opened my eyes wide to all the beauty and mystery this time of year offers.

The first Sunday of Advent was this past weekend, and our family welcomed its arrival by talking about one of the season’s themes – hope. Some dictionaries define hope as “a desire for a certain thing to happen” or “a feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.”

But I believe hope is much grander than words can express. It is the theme of memorable speeches and a deeply-motivating story line in literature and music and art. It’s the intangible asset that sparks movements and inspires progress in our society.

For me, hope is an internal belief in myself as well as a Higher Power. It’s the glue that cements intentional work with a healthy anticipation of the results. It’s an aspect of faith that I have the opportunity to choose, every day, whether or not to embrace.

Since words are my thing, part of my Advent routine is reading from a book of collected essays called Watch For the Light. In one of the pieces, “Waiting for God,” Henri Nouwen writes about how we must hold hope loosely and relinquish control over how things turn out. 

“Hope is trusting that something will be fulfilled, but fulfilled according to the promises, and not just according to our wishes,” Nouwen wrote. “Therefore, hope is always open-ended.”

Last Sunday, after we read Scripture and lit the first candle of Advent, family members were offered a paper ornament to write down their hopes to hang on a miniature Christmas tree in our kitchen. Our collective hopes included adopting a dog from a special-needs rescue, healing from cancer for a relative, and a vacation to Hawaii. When the lights are out in the house and all around seems dark, the tiny tree shines bright and illuminates our hopes.

I wanted this activity to be a reminder of the power of hope as well as the posture of being flexible when life doesn’t turn out as planned. My wish is that this small tree will  serve as a visual of the the ongoing hope we have in our Good Father.

I’m slowly beginning to embrace the days leading up to the holidays. Slowing down and allowing breathing space for Advent has certainly helped. And training my heart to look for hope has helped me focus on the Light that shines all around.

In these dim days as we press on toward the end of the year, it seems fitting to end with words from one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott:

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”