I sat at home alone yesterday morning, while my husband bundled up our two sons and took them out to mass on his own. For the third Sunday in a row.
I did try. I got up, got dressed, had coffee and even got in the car but in the end, I came home.
I walked through the front door, threw my coat over the back of the nearest chair and fell gracelessly onto our red couch, where the day before we found the body of our beloved cat who had died peacefully in her sleep. I looked around and saw the advent candles, all still the same size they were at the beginning of advent. The Christmas tree that I have to say looks beautiful because William decorated it on his own, stimming with excitement after putting on each ornament, all the bottom branches boasting three or four glittery balls.
I put my head in my hands in exhaustion and thought of all the plans I'd had to make this advent THE advent. The most peaceful, the most spiritual, the most beautiful one yet. In my mind we would gather around the dark wooden dining room table in the evenings, light a candle, I'd read a Christmas story in my most gentle and motherly voice. My sons would listen. It would be magic.
And in regards to myself, I had decided confidently at the beginning of advent I would grow so much spiritually. I would meditate on the first Christmas, I would journey with the Holy Family. I would pray the rosary and be filled with unshakable peace and joy. I would be generous and not yell or get angry or judge people or focus on myself.
As I read back what I have written, maybe therein lies the irony. I would not focus on myself. What were all my great plans and expectations, if not the ultimate focusing on myself? How good I'd be and how I'd be that spiritual and good all on my own. All because I decided to and I had the strength and discipline to carry it out.
How I would benefit from an advent full of quiet peace. A cozy, candlelit, storybook preparation for the sacred birth of our Lord.
Then I could hand the Lord these things at the end of Advent and say "Look how perfectly I've preformed! Look what I have done!"
However, the reality has been that I haven't made it to even one mass this advent. I did maybe six reflections with the kids and then the books I laid out with such good intentions, sat unopened. I have been so tired and worn down that I have complained every day. This advent has passed in a flurry of changing sheets, illness, exhaustion, impatience, trying to calm meltdowns, trying to explain the death of a much loved animal to a little boy who thinks the cat died because we didn't pet her enough.
Yet nothing catastrophic has happened. Only daily distractions, small daily failures and sorrows. Somehow the spiritual got all lost in the mundane.
Some wise friends helped me to remember though, that the spiritual is also found in the mundane. I tend to separate the two. As in, if I am a success at spiritual living, all aspects of my life will fall into place and I will no doubt awe others with the transcendent glow that surrounds me. If I am not successful, well then, it all falls apart.
Deep in my heart, I know it all falls apart anyway. I can't make anything perfect. Not myself, not my children, or my home, or my prayer life. I don't have that sort of power or control.
Maybe I approach this Christmas with hands full of ugly, imperfect offerings. Approach the stable tired and a little disillusioned. With only unsuccessful attempts as gifts. Here's all my impatience Lord. Here's my quick temper. My sharp tongue. Here's all the yelling and exasperation that my kids didn't deserve. Here's my grief, yes, grief, over the loss of our cat. Here are all the things I put before you. Here are all my other gods.
Maybe I approach with these imperfect gifts but I don't leave empty handed.
I know the soft glow of joy that is found in uncomfortable circumstances. The knowledge that failure isn't always as it appears. The promise that we can be made new. Again and again if need be. And need be. In this season of Advent, rather than give, I can ask for healing, for humility, for gentleness, for all the things I lack.
I can keep trying.