I looked at myself in the mirror this morning. I don’t make a habit of this. I’m too hard on myself. I notice every little imperfection. I have too many wrinkles for a thirty-six-year-old. I think I got shorter overnight. Wait, is my left eye smaller than my right one? Oh God, it is. Did this happen overnight or have I lived my entire life like this? No wonder the girls in high school thought I was cute, but not boyfriend material. Who would ever date someone with misshapen eyes?
Oh, and would you look at that? Grey hairs protruding from my beard. Disgusting, Frank. Disgusting. Then, I scowl and wonder why God gives all the good qualities to other people. Just one, I think. Is that too much to ask?
Maybe you’re not as hard on yourself as I am. But probably you are. We know all our imperfections, and not just the physical ones. We know all the ways we manipulate people to get the outcomes we want. I do this all the time. I know I don’t have a lot of energy, even on good days. People exhaust me. So, sometimes I tell Tiffani I don’t feel well to avoid engaging with my family when I get home from work. That’s awful, I know. I hate I do it. I’m trying to stop. But life exhausts me.
I’m hard on myself, so I often judge people. How you treat anything is how you treat everything. I don’t like people sometimes, for no reason at all. This is silly and has nothing to do with God. It is the opposite of God. I have to fight the temptation to dislike someone for no reason at all. I hate this about myself.
I’m jealous of people with larger homes and bank accounts. I’m jealous of people who make enough money that their wife doesn’t have to work. Not that wives have to stay home. That’s not the point. The point is my wife wants to stay home. She wants to mother our children full-time, but my job doesn’t pay enough money for her to do that.
Then you have all the ways being human is painful. You have stories of failure and loss and disappointment. I have mine as well. Suffering is hard, man. Our bodies and minds are complex. I’ve learned much about both in the past few years. It’s a miracle we aren’t sick more often. There are so many systems, intertwined and interdependent on another, and they all hum along quite well most of the time. We take our health for granted.
Finally – not finally like this is all there is to being human, but this is all the ink I’m willing to spill on the matter – you have the deepest, hardest mysteries of life. Love and death. Love is the greatest mystery. It’s the soil, water, and fertilizer of human growth. Without love, you die. Period. But, and watch this, if you choose to love, you die as well.
You see what happened there? Love and death are two sides of the same coin. If you choose to marry, your spouse will wound you. If you have kids, they will cause you pain.
If you neither marry or have kids, you were probably a child at some point, yes? You loved your parents, and with that comes pain as well. Some of my deepest wounds come from my father, who is alive but wholly absent from my life. It still hurts, even now, as I type this. My heart aches. I will never have a relationship with him. That wound might never fully heal.
Here’s the point of all this: being human is hard. It’s really hard. Everyday, we’re tempted to remove ourselves from the sting of life, to divorce our heart and mind from the here and now. We do this in a myriad of ways, from drugs to Netflix to working out. Each of us has our own ways of numbing the hard stuff.
Meanwhile, Jesus leaves the perfection of heaven and enters into our world. We want to remove our flesh because flesh means being human and being human is hard. Jesus puts on flesh to show us a new way, to send us a new message.
Here it is.
Being human is NOT awful. Being human is beautiful. It is hard, yes. It is painful. But there’s beauty in the pain. That’s the message of Advent. Don’t avoid or run from your humanity. Don’t despise your skin. You’re beautiful and perfect. Okay, someone wounded you. It hurts. I know. You feel the temptation to throw up walls around your heart, to refuse to allow love in. Don’t do that. Your wounds are not your identity. You can transform them, right here, right now. What a miracle.
Open your eyes. Look around. The grace of God is the atmosphere you breathe. The beauty of God is everywhere. God is with you. Look at the birds or the flowers and tell me you don’t see God. You will, if you eyes to see.
No need to wait until you breathe your last to experience heaven. Heaven is here. Right now. To taste it, you only need to embrace your humanity. No more numbing. No more escape tactics. You’re saved or you die in this life.
Advent is a call to be human. May we have the courage to answer.
Grace and peace, friends.