Longing is a place I visit frequently, passing through on the way to somewhere else. The floor is worn at the entrance way and in front of the window, where walking gently back and forth has left its mark. The chair is comfortable in its familiarity, having molded itself to my body’s curves. Since I expect to be moving on to somewhere more important, this little cabin doesn’t get the attention it deserves. But I’ve spent a lot of time in this longing this year. And the longing is wearing its place in me too.
The Advent candles are burning low in this last stretch of waiting for Jesus, nine months (a full human gestational stretch) into pandemic living. It has felt like an exile more than a Sabbath, a punishment more than a rest. I have been longing for glimpses of lips parting into smiles, tears giving way to consoling hugs, the simple joy of shared food and laughter.
I have become aware of three distinct spaces in the cabin of my longing: loss, ache, and anticipation. There is a strange sort of gift in having time to see and name them.
Loss shows up in the solitude, in the winding places of my mind, in the moments of rest in the chair or on the creaking bed. My thoughts race around the people I have not seen, what work was like before COVID, all the things we have given up. I feel myself grieving the things we have given up, even while I can see the learning that grows in this space between. I do not have to like the grief to hold it tenderly and let the tears flow down my cheeks.
The ache of longing is exhausting. It creeps around the edges of my jaw and across my shoulders, pulling at the tendons in my fingers and my toes. It sits on the counters and in my dishes, in the ordinary places of everyday living that persist in a changed world. Meals still need making. Everything needs to be cleaned and then cleaned again. Children need playing, and consoling, and tucking in. I am longing for company in the chaos, meetings in the flesh, conversations about something other than COVID. I know how to find warmth and light in these darkest days of the year, but the effort strains. Someday it will be different than it is now, and still there is a constant ache.
Anticipation is what makes the longing life-giving. Absence of comforts, rituals, and people creates space to wonder at the miracle of what they are to me. I see my anticipation take shape in frost on the window panes, light streaming through windows, a suitcase on the floor that will one day be packed up again to go on to the next place. Every so often these days, my heart warms with the imagined future I am longing to see.
With more time in these walls, I am learning to love them instead of taking them for granted or ignoring their beauty. Longing is a significant place in my life, the space between where I was and where I am going. It makes up so many of the days of my life that I would like to live fully here when I stop in, rather than pass through.
Advent is twice as long as the Christmas season. It is a place of longing where I can make myself at home to hold the losses, nurture the ache, and marvel at the anticipation. I do not have to rush through, as if the rushing would make the time pass faster. Hurry is an illusion I want to step past. And I still need so much practice.
I am learning to love the longing, to trace my fingers along the wood in the walls, the familiar grooves a comfort to my fingers while I wait. I can light a candle and let its melting wax count the hours for me. Roughing it does not come easily to me, but I am ready to set down the resistance that adds internal suffering to the difficult situations I cannot control.
The Christmas tree is decorated and the nativity scene sits beside it, reminding me that all pregnancies eventually end with birth into something new. This season too, Advent and pandemic, will give way to the next thing, and the next after that. Today I can love in the longing, and let it soften me a little more.