This Sunday a six year old made me cry. It was a gut-wrenching week. It was a week where you climb the three flights of stairs to your office again, and again, each time telling yourself you just can’t do it anymore. You just can’t, can’t, can’t hold anything else in your heart. You can’t hold yourself. You can’t hold other people. You can’t breathe for all the work and worry, for the whispers about “if you were really truly a good worker and really truly a good person and really truly a good friend you’d try harder…”
It was one of those weeks where I think really hard about whether I have forever failed at this work of my life.
And one of those weeks where I couldn’t face God. Not even slightly. Not even really think about it.
But Sundays arrive whether you want them to or not, and with Sunday comes the children. With Sunday comes their presence, their hands sticky with glue stick and stray blonde curls in a frenzy around their forehead. When I got up with my weary heart on Sunday I put on jeans and a blue silk shirt (because it’s Advent, and I wanted to pretend I was trying). I put on the shoes that remind me of peacock feathers. I put my hair in a bun secured with a rubber band because I’ve lost my hair elastics and I can’t be bothered to buy new ones.
It was a day in a different classroom, this time with 6-9 year olds. It was time to hear God’s word to his people. We talked about how prophecies are promises from God to us, his people. I smiled sadly as the children squirmed on their mats, sang half-heartedly the chorus about Christ being the Light. Because when you are trapped in the lie that none of what you do is really good, it’s hard to believe God’s promises apply to you. In the wrongheaded math of my universe, I couldn’t believe that I, in my jeans and blue silk shirt and hair in a rubber band, am the person that God makes promises to. That I’m the person He was thinking of when He thundered His messenger to the world to ask Mary to bear Christ to us.
I sat there, but when Ms Kirsten said we should go to our coloring work, I sat with Lily. We cut out construction paper to make an Advent wreath. She was shy at first, and we sat in silence, gluing and arranging the yellow paper flames over the candles. But when she asked if I could pull out a piece of stained glass coloring book paper for her to color, I caught a glimpse of a smile.
It lit her face, and mine, too. She had on a red and gold dress, the kind I used to love to wear, the kind that twirls. And I remember how extravagantly loved we can feel in those clothes, as if we are sparkling from head to toe, as if we are the most beautiful and beloved creature to be shining in Sunday school in a dress that we waited to wear. So I told her how much I loved it. And she smiled wide, reaching for a pink marker.
“Lily! This is so beautiful! Would you like to take it home?” It’s the end of class, and we are putting everything away, and she has finished her coloring. But Lily shakes her head, smiles up at me. “It’s for you! I made this for you.”
She giggles, twirls her red and gold skirt, and is off to the next thing. But I sit, my heart thudding out its beat against all the odds, because this girl has made me a picture to hold up against the cold winter light and see myself in it. She has given me the promise again – the very one I can’t believe God has in store for me.
I made this for you.
God wants to give us a gift at Christmas. A promise. A fulfillment, a transformation. He wants to overcome our sin and wretchedness with love. With a stained glass paper picture, colored in greens and pinks. With the relentlessness of His arrival.
Do you know what I heard Him whisper, as I sat there, holding my gift, near tears at her generosity and love?
I’m not waiting for you to get it right. I’m not waiting for you to become good the way you think you should be able to be. I’m not waiting for you to clean up all the mess and all the worry and all the lies running around in your heart. I’m not waiting, because I love you. Because my love doesn’t rely on your perfection, but on your being. Because my love is bigger than your fears about it.
Because God so loves this world, and because He loves too much to wait for us to be ready.
Lily? Thank you. I’m hanging that picture in the window above my bed – so Mary, Joseph, you and me, we can watch God’s love arriving.