“You know, I’ve just realised we don’t have to have ALL THE THINGS DONE by December 25th.” We giggled on my front step as our breath became frost in the winter morning air. We had been discussing our weekends’ doing and going and planning for more doing and going, her with arms full of gifts to distribute and me with my hair plopped on top of my head ready for a morning of life admin. Her words cut through me like a knife…a good knife. I needed to hear them. They brought me the freedom I needed to get through the past couple of weeks.
Can I be honest with you, friend? This season has been a hard one. At times, I have felt like I was running uphill at 100 miles per hour, the rubber soles of my shoes having long worn off leaving my tired, raw, reluctant feet to keep going. On other days, I’ve just wanted to hide under the duvet, my feet refusing to do any more running, and feeling guilty for it.
I’m in the middle. Stuck in the why, and in the not yet. And I really don’t like it. The idea of having everything wrapped up and tied with sparkly red ribbon by December 25th sounded so good to me. Instead, I’m not there, or really anywhere. I’m in that limbo we talk about between Christmas and New Year; the week of Saturdays or just No Man’s Land. But it’s not been restful or full of cheer. It’s been sad. And disappointing. And scary.
I want my life to be as neat and shiny as my presents. I find deadlines appealing. I love black and white. I get ever-so slightly itchy when there is something on my to-do list that I just can’t tick off. I’m a doer, so when I’m in the middle or facing something that I can’t control, it’s hard. Can you relate? Are you waiting for something? Have you been disappointed? Are you confused or fearful about the future? Is what you are working towards looking further away than it was before? Are there things that you can’t tie up neatly?
The suspicion that you, that someone might whisper ‘yes’ to some of these questions is the reason I’m writing this post. It’s been hard – in fact, it’s taken me days to finish. I want to be able to offer a shiny conclusion, or some kind of useful life lesson. I’m good at Top Ten Tips for This and How To Do That posts. I’m good at writing about things after they’re finished and making sense of them then. And I really don’t have any of that now. It’s a vulnerable place. I don’t know why the things that have made this last season so hard have happened. But I have found such comfort in things other people have said about times they have felt the harsh cold of the middle, the not yet, the why, the disappointment, the sadness. And so I write, so that someone can say ‘me too’ and find some warmth in my words.
It is in the ‘me too’ that the magic of writing happens: where you and I discover that we are the same, that we are walking the same road with different shoes, that we care about each other’s feet.
The middle is a hard place to be in. Dan and I had a funny moment recently when we talked about the words that encouraged us the most, especially in this kind of season – we worked out that we were telling each other the things that brought us encouragement, which actually were the opposite of what the other needed. He doesn’t want to be told that he’ll nail whatever he’s going into, but likes the comfort of knowing that regardless of what happens, things will be alright in the end – and of someone saying that to him. Things like ‘it’ll sort itself out’ or ‘there must be a reason for this’ really don’t do it for me. In fact, I find them frustrating. But words like ‘you’ve got this’ or ‘I see you and what you are walking through’ are of huge encouragement.
Even though hope still runs deep and is not easily shaken, it is terrifying to lose the ability to express that hope, even for just a moment. But can I boast a little? My friends are incredible. Almost back-to-back, one told me she was hoping for me, and then another said she was hoping with me. Soul fuel.
Friends who have dared to hope for me when my reserves have run low, who have remembered details that were important to me, or who have simply said ‘this sucks’ and stood beside me are the heroes in this story. In fact, I think I am so much more moved by these things, being in the middle. It’s like the cold makes the warmth even warmer. The sound of carols being sung or the feeling of someone’s hand on my shoulder is even more precious. I guess the dark makes the light appear even brighter.
So it’s also a season of paradox…which is fitting, because I think Christmas is too. The giving, and the receiving. The anticipating, and the arriving. The cosy warmth, and the frosty cold (for those of us in the Northern hemisphere, anyway!) The busy noise of a room full of loved ones, and the silence when they’ve gone. The ordinary, and the extraordinary. The fresh feasts, and the leftovers. The wrapping, and the overflowing paper bin. The manger, and the king.
Not only is Christmas a season of paradox – I’ve come to learn that life is, too. The hope, and the disappointment. The birth, and the death. The love found, and love lost. The excitement, and the dread. The moving forward, and the back-stepping. The faith, and the doubt. The climbing, and falling.
This year has been so wonderful, and it’s also been very difficult in parts. Opposites don’t cancel each other out. Black and white doesn’t just create grey – black and white still exist.
All of these paradoxes create tension…tension that is hard to live with. It’s more comfortable to be either this or that, to be here or there. But actually, in the tension between the now and the not yet, life happens (perhaps this is why I felt the need to write these unfinished and unpolished thoughts down?) In this space, there is grace – for growth, for understanding, for love…for ourselves and for each other. Could it be that it is exactly there, in the dissonance, that we come alive? That life isn’t so much about the beginnings and endings of things but more about what happens in the middle? More about the people we are than the things we do? That the magic is found in the waiting, rather than the arriving?
Winter would have a thing or two to say about this, I suspect. Winter is full of paradox. Winter waits. The earth lies under a blanket of white (if we’re lucky) and rests, hiding its flowers and fruit.
‘Spring is not intrinsically a better season than winter, nor is summer better than spring. Each season plays its essential part in the unfolding of the life cycle, and the sequence follows a prescribed course. Winter is a fallow, quiet time in which the previous growth comes to an end and the possibility of new growth is created. It is the ultimate transitional period. Unless the creative work of winter is done and the seeds take root, nothing further can grow. Spring is a time of blossoming, when the fruits of the winter’s labor begin to be realized. The blossoms will not appear unless the seeds have been nourished, and the blossoms in turn make way for the blooming, fully grown flowers.’ Daniel Levinson
There need not be despair in Autumn, or fear in Winter. Winter is necessary. The space it needs is not to be lost, or forgotten, or despised. Waiting and hoping but yes, also death and nothingness – they are part of the journey.
Winter not only brings us less daylight and more hours of darkness in its short days so that we can become comfortable with the dark and let it run its course, it also encourages us thus to rest, to quieten ourselves and maybe the other voices in our worlds, to breathe.
And that is what we need to do, those of us who are in Winter.
For those who are disappointed
For those who are waiting
For those who cannot see a way forward
For those who feel alone
For those whose feet are raw –
May longing for the ending or reminiscing about the beginning not blind us from the importance of the middle. May we find the treasure hidden under the blanket of Winter. Permission to change gears or ideas or plans, to laugh in the tension, to see the light more brightly than ever before, to rest in the unique grace of the season, to find ‘me too’s who will hold our hands and our hope, to know peace in the middle, to come alive in the dissonance.
Here’s to 2016.