Our day opens new and early, born screaming and sudden, ripping through the silent dark soundness of sleep. I plant a kiss on Kevin’s hand where it lays warm on my arm, and then I slide out into the cold. I want to stay and rest and pretend that the time really doesn’t matter, but I have children to see off to school, and we have work, always so much of that. It’s my pride that makes me angry when someone really believes family managers have flexible schedules and disposable time.
This time of year, I have three more lists than I usually do. My children tell me about their excitement every day—excitement over traditions, gifts, decorations–and well, that’s all me. Or so I tell myself.
Now, more than ever, I want to express love in as many ways and to as many dear Ones as I can, and I want to do so meaningfully and creatively and resourcefully. I want my children to see the days twinkling and feel them warm and taste them sweet. I want to plant surprises and wrap up thoughts and build foundations that will last, and it makes for a beautiful kind of busy.
But the day begins, and I can’t quite think. I carry my calendar and all its scribbled reminders in my arms right with my phone (and its Bible) and a book of devotions for Advent. I grip a mug of cinnamon tea in one hand and I walk through the house turning on Christmas lights, and here and there, I stop to rub my eyes and just absorb a bit of that glow. I’m crazy-tired. We try hard, but we never really do get enough sleep.
In the first moments of newborn day, I feel doubt curling through my mind like a suffocating serpent, and the one word aches, like a taunt: How. I feel like I live impossible every day, like every morning that one word rumbles, distant, threatening a storm. How, how, how…How will this be? How will I manage this? I never know how. It always feels impossible.
I know you feel it too. It doesn’t matter if you’re a mom like me with kids you’re raising or a husband trying to support a family or a single trying to live and breathe and eat and sometimes feeling lonely in it. We all feel the how, the lurking threat, the awareness of our impossibility. We all feel pressed for time enough. We all feel hurried—just sick with it. We all feel tired of rushing and routine and pushing. We all want to stop and just breathe in the steam from that mug and feel the stunning Light sink into our skin.
One way or another, I think silently, standing before the Light. One way or another, it’ll all get done.
We say that—one way or another—and then we set ourselves on fire trying to make things happen, as though those words are just gas poured over us and our determination is the match. Those words really mean: I intend to do this. I will do this. I will…my will. It’s that or another that’s the problem.
I sit down with my tea and my stack of Life, and I start to look at my email or one of my lists, and that’s when I feel the Spirit, the No firm and clear:
No. Not anything else first. Not another. Just me.
At this point, I’ve been walking with God long enough to know. So I close my email and open my Bible, and this is what the Spirit pours into me, this is what He cuts into my heart:
“Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him—-through him, through him, through him—-you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God (1 Peter 1:17-22).”
It’s right there, the One Way. I sit absorbing that Light, feeling the steam of it warming my cheeks. I don’t even believe in God without Him. And I am a stranger here, and all these perishable things did not redeem me, did not fill up my empty living. He is the purpose, the power, the strength behind my doing or it is fruitless.
I am the vine and you are the branches, Spirit whispers, if a man remains in me and I in him he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5). And this: Not even the Lord himself suggested that he did one thing on His own (John 5: 19). One way or another, you say. But there really is just the One Way.
I open my Advent devotional, and again He swings the sword, cutting away that or another, that flirtation of mine with idolatry. He offers me this:
“Spiritual experience, if it is of God, will indeed lead to a life of activity. But the nature of true activity is surrender and obedience. The most striking revelation of this is found in the conception and birth of Jesus. When the angel Gabriel came to Mary, he told her, ‘The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you.’ And she answered, ‘Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word.’
It was in this submission, this surrender and obedience, that Christ was conceived. And it is the laying down of power that is revealed in his birth. …The pattern of complete abandonment of human strength in total surrender to God’s will is of vital importance for us, both in our lives of activity and of spiritual experience. It was in the surrender of herself to God that Mary became the mother of Christ (Philip Britts, Watch for the Light, 112-113).”
“How will this be?” Mary had asked. How, how, how. And the answer was “the power of the Most High shall overshadow you.” There’s no “or another.” There’s really just the One Way, the one answer to that question, the one balm for that ache. The Power of the Most High God will overshadow—overshadow…meaning hide, cover over—you.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us,” Spirit says bold. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. we always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body (2 Corinthians 4: 7-10).
We live impossible every day so that one thing might be clearly seen: He lives. He is the everything we can never be on our own.
There’s really just the One Way. One Way, and all our everything happens—One Way and all the lasting fruit is born; One Way and the empty is full; One Way and all our messed up living is redeemed; One Way and the Light comes; One Way and He will.
The Spirit writes Breath and Life where we feel weary dead and crazy tired, and we’re learning to change what we say. We’re learning to say this:
One Way–just one, by The One – - and it all happens well.