“The Holidays” are upon us. In America, this has become a season of high expectations and multiple assumptions about happiness, parties, and gift-giving. Decorations are mandatory, cheer is obligatory, a full schedule of “holiday” events seems inevitable.
And yet…there is much happening in our country, and our world, that does not easily make for joy. We have wars and rumors of wars. We have refugees, asylum-seekers, and displaced people seeking the very basics of food, clothing and shelter, all around the world. We have climate change and natural disasters, drought and shortages of food, clothing and shelter. We have #MeToo and political scandals and leadership priorities more in line with ancient imperial Rome than with Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus tells us to love our neighbor. Paul, his apostle, tells us to give thanks in all circumstances. How do we do this, when so much is hard, sharp, bitter and tragic?
The word that is welling up in me is “abide.” I have a friend and fellow spiritual guide who has had this word on her license plate for many years. It is a many-years, long-term word. It means to remain, to dwell (the Psalmist tells God, “Let me abide in your tent forever”). It means to continue, await, endure. It also means to obey, observe, and follow, as in rules or disciplines (“I will abide by this decision”). It means to uphold, to accept, to adhere to. It means to persevere, no matter how difficult the situation.
As I recall, this friend chose this word because of Julian of Norwich, the medieval English mystic. Julian wrote of God abiding in our soul and Christ abiding with us through any pain or suffering we might endure. Julian assures us that, through that abiding, we are eventually healed.
This doesn’t mean the healing will be instantaneous, or that it will take the form that we wish. Julian’s most famous quote, “All shall be well,” is now often used as a trite reassurance, allowing us to avoid the difficulties of “now” to focus on a future when all is well. But that is not her point. “All shall be well” was not what Julian said; it was what God says to her—and to us. Julian herself questions how “every kind of thing should be well.” Living in a period when Norwich endured successive rounds of plague and famine, Julian understood how devastation and fear could reach into every level of society.
Within that challenging social reality, Julian learned to abide. She learned to trust that long-term perspective and to share it with others—and so must we. As she preached to those who came to her, seeking counsel in tough times, Christ holds that long-term view, and assures us that all will be well.
So, when the “holidays” are challenging, and the news is difficult, what shall we do? Abide. One way to do that is to follow the Apostle Paul’s advice: pray without ceasing and give thanks in all circumstances (I Thessalonians 5:17–18). Give thanks for having fresh air to breathe (and pray for the urban Chinese), clean water to drink (and pray for Puerto Ricans), and plenty of food, clothing and shelter (and pray for those still displaced or homeless by war, floods, and fires). Give thanks for family (and pray for those who “push your buttons”) and friends (and pray for those who struggle during this holiday season).
I could go on, but you get the point. Find your way to pray, and to abide. Find your way to understand that, in God’s long-term view, we are called to abide in Christ (John 15). As we do so, we live into the ability to give thanks—not just on Thanksgiving, but in every day of the year.