January is a month of anticipation for many reasons. The new year brings many questions about what the next year will be like. At the same time, the Church is in the season of Epiphany, where we, like the Magi, anticipate the coming of Christ. In church, we’re constantly talking about the already and the not yet–what Christ has done, and what Christ will do.
Anticipation means a lot for me this year. It’s partly why I have taken so long to blog again after the holidays. My mind is flooded with hopes (and fears) for this year. I’m obsessively planning my Spring garden, months in advance, and dreaming about tart berries and sweet, vine-ripened tomatoes and a flower garden brimming with bees and butterflies. I’m brainstorming a revised ending for my fantasy novel and planning what needs to happen for my final draft. I’m starting to think I might actually finish the thing, which is exciting and terrifying, because I don’t know if I can publish it, and I’m afraid of running out of ideas and energy and hope that I can actually do this.
I’ve started teaching a new class, and I have another class I’m about to teach that I’m also in the process of revising. I’ve been given new opportunities at the university that give me hope that I can do this for a long time, maybe for the rest of my life, which has been part of my daydreams as well.
I’m seeing how my life might actually be what I dreamed. I can be a writer, a gardener, and a teacher, if all goes well.
But it’s in these times, when things are going well and life seems impossibly sweet, that I worry. It feels like there is nothing to anticipate but loss. Because I know that, as I enjoy this goodness, others are experiencing horrific grief and pain, and I know this means that I am not immune to suffering.
My husband and I went on a trip together for New Year’s to spend some time together and reflect. On our drive home, I was so happy and grateful and in love, that I somehow could only think about what could ruin my joy. “What ifs” blurred my vision, my fear of loss making me lose my joy in that very moment.
I don’t know why I do this. Maybe you do, too? The next step is always anger at myself because I know I’ve sabotaged my own joy. At the same time, I’m afraid that, if I don’t worry, then I won’t be able to prevent something bad from happening, or at least from being “prepared” for it.
But can I ever really be prepared for pain? Can I process grief without the loss in front of me?
I know the answer in my head, but sometimes my heart still believes I’m protecting myself by worrying. That worry prepares me for the worst.
But if worry prepares me for the worst, then anticipation prepares me for the best.
When I was looking for an image for this post, I looked up “waiting” first, and saw gloomy images of people waiting, it seemed, anxiously, for some unknown visitor. Then I looked up “anticipation,” and the images changed from gloomy to optimistic. People anticipated eating a big meal set before them. Children anticipated presents under a Christmas tree. In most images, women held onto swelling stomachs, waiting for new life to be born.
Anticipation and waiting were different. Waiting was filled with the anxious worry about the unknown, but anticipation knew what it was waiting for and prepared for it with joy.
Christian anticipation does not wait anxiously for some unknown end. It looks first at what Jesus has already done to save us, once and for all, confirming that his love is unfailing and that he will keep his promises. Anything we could ever ask for has already been done, so we know our hopes will be fulfilled. Because of this, we can look ahead, past the pain, to what Christ will do. We wait knowing that our salvation is near. But it’s not just what he has done in the past and will do long into the future. It’s what he does in the pain itself. We’ve seen it. We’ve heard the stories. We know how God makes beauty out of brokenness. We know that this is a promise we can not just wait for but anticipate with unfailing hope.
It is this hope–not worry–that prepares us for whatever is to come.
I know this. I believe it. But I’m learning that belief in the mind isn’t always the same as belief in the body. If I’m not acting like I believe it, then I don’t really believe it. If I’m not practicing hope every day, then how can I be hopeful?
This is a challenge for myself and anyone who needs more anticipation and hope in their hearts. If we really believe in our salvation and eternal life and that God’s greatness and goodness are really bigger than all of our fears, then let’s act like it.
For me, I have to be honest with myself and acknowledge that I need to be in the Word more to consistently to remind myself of how big and great and good God is. It also means I need to pray more, telling God how big and great and good He is. It means I need to talk more positively and, with the help of the Spirit, to begin to think more positively.
I don’t want blind, prosperity-centered faith that believes nothing bad will happen. I want the kind of faith that says, like Paul, I can do all things–hunger, thirst, and even suffer–through Christ.
So the challenge during this season of Epiphany, as we transition soon into Lent, is to examine how we can continue to anticipate God’s goodness throughout the year. Worry isn’t easily defeated. It takes time. But even a moment of anticipation is more powerful than all of our fears.
How can you seek out those moments of anticipation this week? I would love to hear from you in the comments.