I have an appreciation for deadlines. I am not an early planner, so I need a looming expiration date to ensure I get stuff done. In my lifetime this has meant staying up all night to finish and deliver a term paper to a professor at 9 a.m. It’s meant rising from bed at 6 a.m. to write and press send on countless newspaper columns, also due by 9 a.m.
Most recently, my adherence to deadlines took me to a Wal-Mart two days before Christmas. I dislike shopping at Wal-Mart which is probably why I put off going there in the weeks and months before Dec. 24, even though I’d known they’d most likely have what I wanted.
Had I been a planner, I could have ordered the item online – it was a simple gift; a puzzle mat for a friend who I knew would make good use of it. She is recovering from a concussion and has started, at a doctor’s prescription, doing jigsaw puzzles to retrain her brain. A puzzle mat would allow her to pick up her unfinished work and stow it away whenever she needed her table for other uses, like work or lunch. The puzzle mat was a useful gift, which is why I wanted to buy it for her. I am far more motivated to buy a gift if I think someone actually wants or needs it.
But I delayed, knowing I had that Dec. 24 deadline, apparently the busiest shopping day of the year in Canada. When I finally began wandering among the store’s ravaged shelves at 5 p.m. on Dec. 23, I might have even been a little proud that I’d beat the deadline – had I not been so dismayed.
All around me, people were filling carts with soaps and lotions, candles, games and, yes, jigsaw puzzles. But no puzzle mats. I left the store empty handed. But thoughtful.
We define Christmas by a deadline when, really, it is meant to be a lifeline.
I am a believer in God and a follower of Jesus. I have chosen to believe that the Christmas story is true, even when I doubt.
And, lately, doubt keeps inching its way into my life, a persistent but inevitable tidal force. It is hard to believe God is present and active in this world when millions of refugees are wearily heading towards countries that have no welcome for them; when plastic clogs oceans and poisons fish; when giraffes are nearing extinction; when nightclubs and hospitals and schools are places of death, not life.
It is hard to believe God exists, let alone that he has a lifeline for us.
I’m reaching for it, though. If the Christmas story is true, then Jesus is real. What he said, what he did, how he lived, who he claimed to be – all true.
I never doubt some things about Jesus. I never doubt his wisdom with words, his compassion for people, his certainty about his purpose. I never doubt that living according to his teachings is actually the best way to live – to love, to forgive, to share life with others. To ask for forgiveness. All this makes sense to me.
But Emmanuel? That’s one of the prophetic names for Jesus. It means God with Us.
That’s what I sometimes doubt.
But here’s the things about a lifeline. You can hold on to it without knowing for sure you will be pulled to shore. It allows you to keep your head above water when the waves feel like they will overtake you. It gives you the time you need to catch your breath. To rest. All you need to do is hold on.
Today, I went back to the stories about Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Mark and read two chapters. Tomorrow, I will read more. And the day after that, and the day after that. I will keep reading. I will keep holding on.