The Pastor’s Advent

Post Author: Andrea Roske-Metcalfe

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

As I write this, I’m sitting on my living room couch. I showered this morning, but I’m wearing what my husband’s aunt calls “soft clothes” – a sweatshirt, and lounge pants, and slippers.

I haven’t worn mascara in more than a week.

“What are you going to do today?” my husband asked me, this morning, while he packed lunches and I spread cream cheese on bagels for our daughters, who are 7 and 3.

“I have some writing to do,” I said. “Maybe I’ll return those Christmas lights that are too short, and buy some candles for the Advent wreath.” That was the entirety of my to-do list, at least as of 6:30am. I tried not to feel like it was inadequate.

On my way back from dropping our youngest at daycare, I decided to make a lasagna. And then I decided that I would sit my butt down and actually read the two long-form articles that have been open in my browser for days, one of them maybe even for weeks.

The very idea of sitting down, uninterrupted, to read an entire long-form article – without feeling the whole time like I was supposed to be doing something else – was almost unfathomable. The possibility that I could just sit and read the entire thing, from beginning to end, rather than to read it piecemeal – a few minutes here while my kids are playing in the tub, and a few minutes there while I scarf down my lunch – made me happier than I’d like to admit.

I took the week off, you see.

My husband and I have the same amount of vacation time, but that wasn’t the case last year, so I carried over an extra week. I knew I needed to use it, but as the school year got going, I just never bothered to schedule it, and with Advent looming, the possibility of taking time off seemed unlikely.

Then, somehow, this week appeared that almost never happens – an entire week between Thanksgiving weekend and the first Sunday of Advent. My colleague wasn’t planning to be gone, and there was nothing on the church calendar that wouldn’t survive without me, so I took it.

An entire week. An entire week when my kids would go to school and daycare and my husband would go to work, but I wouldn’t.

An entire week, just for me.

I have this side project that I’ve been working on for way too long, because I can’t seem to carve enough time out of my normal routine to make any significant progress on it, and I assumed this week would be about that. And it is.

But I’ve also decorated the entire house for Christmas, and wrapped our children’s presents, and I’m close to having purchased all the other gifts we plan to give. I’ve been cooking real meals with real food, and freezing the leftovers for the weeks ahead like some squirrel stashing acorns.

My husband is confused, and rightly so. He is the planner, the thinker-aheader; he is the organized one. I, on the other hand, procrastinate in all aspects of my life.

But this job, friends. I hear the irony even as I type these words, but Christmas is hard with this job. The incarnation of God as a baby is the whole point of what we do, and yet this season just about breaks me, every year.

“November is the pastor’s Advent,” the writer and UCC pastor Maren Tirabassi told me, two years ago, at her Collegeville Institute writers’ workshop. I think she mostly meant in terms of work – Advent is the season of preparation for the coming Christ, but we have to prepare for Advent itself, much less the gong-show of Christmas itself, so best to be thinking about those services and getting those bulletins and candle-lighting liturgies in order during November.

And much of that is done, though much is still left to do, as I write this a few days before the first Sunday of Advent.

Still, her words ring true more for me personally this week – for me as a spouse and as a mother and as my own person – than they do professionally. There is so much pressure at this time of year anyway, and then you throw the vocation of pastor on top of that, and then, just, 2017.

Some days I think I’m forgetting how to breathe. Is it just me? Maybe it is, or maybe not.

Watching the news these days is like drinking from a fire hose. Social media is a special mix of perfect people living their perfect lives in their perfect homes and families combined with the Mass Shooting of the Day and so many examples of systemic racism and white privilege and #metoo that I wonder if any of us can ever be redeemed.

I never know what will show up next in my newsfeed, so I’m never quite sure what to brace for.

All I know is that it feels like I’m constantly bracing for something, and that I should always be ready with a thought-provoking response, or a sermon that challenges people but doesn’t push so hard as to turn them off but also reminds them that Jesus loves them, or at the very least a prayer petition that hits all the right notes. It’s my job to remind people that we’re already redeemed, even if I don’t always believe it myself. How I’m supposed to do that with my congregation, much less my own children, sometimes feels beyond my God-given abilities.

I think if I ever have a sabbatical, it’s going to take about a week for me to chill out enough to even realize what’s happening.

But I can feel my shoulders relaxing, even just a bit, during this week that’s just for me, and I’m going to try to remember this feeling all month. I’m going to remember that very few things are as urgent as we make them out to be. I’m going to give myself permission to read an entire article in one sitting.

I’m going to remember that the news will still happen, even if I don’t read all of it; that Jesus will still come, even if I don’t put up every last Christmas decoration we own; that holiday traditions that suck the life out of us could really just be left in the past.

I’m going to remember that pizza makes a wonderful Christmas Day meal. Lois, one of my parish nurses, can attest to this, as can all of her (previously skeptical) children and grandchildren.

I’m going to remember to breathe.

I’m going to wear soft clothes more often, and skip the mascara.

Andrea Roske-Metcalfe serves as associate pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Apple Valley, Minnesota. She’s a graduate of Union Theological Seminary in New York, part of the Collegeville Institute’s Multi-Religious Fellows Program, and she lives in Minneapolis with her husband, Luke, and their daughters, Olivia and Clementine.

Image by: Andrew Neel
Used with permission
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