As a young pastor I remember reading that people in the Bible not only act out their feelings; they also act their way into feelings. When a tragedy occurs, they rend a garment and put on sackcloth and ashes as a way of acting their way into appropriate feeling. And when a blessing is bestowed, they tell it abroad and offer a sacrifice in order to experience the feelings of joy and blessing.
When Christians fast—when we take on a discipline of self-denial—it shouldn’t lead us to whine and whimper. We do not act like it is a big sacrifice, that we suffer from it. Instead, if we act as if we are experiencing abundance, we can experience God’s abundance, even though we practice self-denial.
Have you ever noticed that people’s happiness seldom has any relationship to how much stuff they have? People in Africa or other parts of the world may live in conditions of rampant poverty, disease, and violence; still they do not appear to let suffering define them. Churches in communities with few resources often serve as gathering places for singing and dancing in a spirit of exuberant joy. Physical circumstance does not determine spiritual health. Joy can overcome adversity.
In Haiti, following the 2010 earthquake, I saw people who lived in refugee tents with no water or sewer systems, walking to work or to school. Dressed in clean and pressed clothes, they stood straight and walked with purpose. People who had every reason for despair lived out of a spirit of abundant life. They strode into the work day with confidence and hope.
How we behave can affect how we feel. If we pray and work and prepare for a hopeful future, we will find hope all around.
Savior Christ, teach us to live in hope so that we experience hope in you. Amen.
This season, Whitney R. Simpson has given us the gift we must open: a clear, accessible invitation to connect with the divine spark that is within us. This is the best present: being present for Jesus’ birth, God made human.”
Learn more about our newest Advent resource, Fully Human, Fully Divine here.