[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jill Slywka lives and works as an optometrist in Merritt, BC. She loves the mountains of BC, but always loves being able to come home to the prairies and to her family here.]
I’ve lived in Merritt, BC for over 6 years now, and for most of those 6 years, I’ve spent my Tuesday evenings with a fun and quirky group of teenagers. Spending time with them is often the highlight of my week, and I know I’ve gained more from them over these years, than anything that I’ve given to them. We try to give them many things on Tuesday evenings – a safe place to come and ask questions about life and faith, a fun place where they can come and hang out with friends, and if nothing else, a place where they can come and have a snack. But as I look around at these kids week after week, I can see that so many of them know brokenness, hurt and pain intimately. I don’t know all their stories, and if I did, I’m sure my heart would break to know what some of them have gone through in their short lives. I wish I could wipe away all their tears, and get rid of all of the pain that has been a part of their lives, but it’s precisely because of the hurt that I see in them that I know in my heart that one of the most important things we can ever give to them is HOPE. They may not even realize that we’re trying to give it to them – but through our actions and our words, we’re trying to show them there is HOPE in this world. HOPE, through Jesus, that the brokenness you feel in your life doesn’t have to be the end of the story. HOPE for healing, for justice, for belonging.
So how can I show them this hope that we have, that we as Christians have access to? Especially at the end of a long year, and I’m weary and tired, and find it hard to even see much hope myself. How can my heart even dare to feel hopeful when we’re bombarded by brokenness on every side? Does hope even matter in these days?
While sometimes my head tries to tell me that it doesn’t, that hope is just ‘wishful thinking’, my heart knows otherwise. My heart knows that it does absolutely matter, and that we would be lost without it. The other day, I was reading a blog by one of my favourite writers, Sarah Bessey, on why Advent matters. I often find in reading other people’s words that they say something exactly the way that I wish I could, so rather then stumbling through and trying to find those words myself, it’s easier to just share what they have said. You can read the whole blog HERE (and you should!), but the words that particularly struck me on that day were these:
But how could we possibly celebrate Advent if we are paying attention to this world?
How do we make merry when our hearts are broken by Paris, by Syria, by Kenya, by Beirut, by Japan, by Burundi? When, in response to every crisis, our communities seem splintered and divided in how to respond, and careless words are flung like rocks at our own glass houses? When, closer to home, perhaps we are lonely or bored or tired or sick or broke?
In these days, celebration can seem callous and uncaring, if not outright impossible.
But here’s the thing about Advent: we celebrate precisely because we are paying attention.
It’s precisely because everything hurts that we prepare for Advent now.
We don’t get to have hope without having grief. Hope dares to admit that not everything is as it should be, and so if we want to be hopeful, first we have to grieve. First we have to see that something is broken and there is a reason for why we need hope to begin with.
Advent matters because it’s our way of keeping our eyes and our hearts and our arms all wide open.
‘We don’t get to have hope without having grief’. It’s in times when we feel like hope is impossible, that we need it the most, and somehow through all sorts of chaos and brokenness, hope is able to spring forth.
Andrew Peterson has been a favourite musician of mine for several years. I often find his music strikes a chord within my heart, and while I can’t even always put into words what it is that touches me about his songs, I think that part of the reason is that so many of his songs have an underlying message of hope. A couple months ago, I stumbled upon this performance of one of his older songs, ‘After the Last Tear Falls’, and I knew immediately that I needed to share this as a part of this blog focused on hope this year. His words at the beginning, while somewhat specific to a particular event from a couple years ago, could just as easily be applied to us today, and the events that we’ve witnessed over the last couple months. The song just gives me hope that yes, this world is broken, and yes, hard, hard things will happen in this life, but we know that this brokenness is not the end, that one day all things will be made right. And if that doesn’t give me hope, then I’m not sure anything else can.