Advent is the time of year I run headlong into two of my most onerous traits, procrastination and perfectionism. “Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?” coupled with, “It has to be better!” is a treacherous mental combination, never more so than in December.
Advent calls us to a holy waiting and watching, which is music to the ears of a serial procrastinator (‘oh, lovely! I will wait quietly today; tomorrow will take care of itself’) but sends off big time alarm bells in a perfectionist (‘Wait?? I don’t have time to wait!)
One December years ago, when my son and daughter were of carpool age and I worked as the manager of a local bookstore, I was driving west on Walnut Grove Road, driving fast because I was running late for work, having barely gotten my daughter’s carpool to school on time.
My mind spun like a top, spewing out terrible messages: “You are like this every Christmas; you are always behind, you are late everywhere; you take on too much, spend too much money, exhaust yourself, get short-tempered…you are hopeless.”
When I came to the corner of Walnut Grove and Goodlett, the stoplight was bright red. I jammed on the brakes, the car stopped, and I exhaled in exasperation. “Now I am going to be even later,” I said to myself (and probably added a few choice expletives).
Suddenly, with no warning, I heard a voice, a voice so loud and clear that the speaker could have been sitting in the passenger seat next to me. The words I heard broke through my litany of self-loathing like lightning hitting a tree:
“STOP IT! STOP BEATING UP ON YOURSELF – RIGHT NOW. You get like this every Christmas; you do take on too much, you overextend and exhaust yourself … that’s just who you are. You may never change and that’s okay. I love you, foibles and all. Stop berating yourself, NOW.”
The red light changed to green. The voice disappeared, I drove on, with a sense of peace and calm that seemed miraculous. I felt lighthearted and relieved, like a bird flying out of a cage – a cage of her own making. I think I even laughed out loud. (That was long before LOL came into the vernacular.)
In his most recent Calvary Blog, Buddy Stallings quotes Walter Brueggemann: ‘Advent is an abrupt disruption of our ordinary time.’
That pretty much describes what happened to me at the corner of Walnut Grove and Goodlett years ago. It was an abrupt disruption all right, one that brought hope and healing when I least expected it.
My habits have not drastically changed since that Advent encounter. I still procrastinate; I still want to do things perfectly. But there is a huge difference in how I handle the stress and anxiety: when self-berating thoughts pop up like naughty little balloons, I am almost always able to prick them, with a wink and a chuckle. “Not you again!’ I say, and watch them disappear into thin air.
This is the story of my abrupt, disruptive, and life-giving Advent experience. I would love to hear about yours.