Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Quiet Peace: Advent Anxiety

About the author: Rhett Smith is a Marriage and Family Therapist at Auxano Counseling in Plano, TX, and he is on staff as a therapist at The Hideaway Experience (marriage intensive). He is the author of the forthcoming book The Anxious Christian (Moody Publishers, March 2012). He lives in Frisco, TX with his wife, daughter, and son.

There has been an anxious disquiet stirring in my soul the last 10 years as I have approached the Christmas season. I used to enjoy the busy shopping malls and the congested roads signifying that Christmas was upon us. But something began to change in me after I spent three and half months living in Guatemala in 2001. What changed was that I was brought into the mystery of the Lent season, something that was almost a bad word in my Evangelical church upbringing. For many Evangelicals the word Lent hinted too closely with that of the Catholic faith and its practices, so instead, we rushed to Easter Sunday with no thought of the journey that led to the Cross. But after experiencing Lent that Easter in Guatemala I began to feel that I was robbed of something valuable. But it did not end with Lent, as I too began to feel like the “real” meaning of Christmas was now being lost to me in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season.

In his book, Be not Anxious: Pastoral Care for Disquieted Souls, author Allen Hugh Cole Jr. talks poignantly about the “hurry sickness” that pervades so much of our society, as we anxiously run from activity to activity, drowned in the busyness that we create in our lives. As I continually busy myself in the days leading up to Christmas, I’m afraid that I eventually lose out on the “true” meaning that I so desperately am looking for and wanting to embrace in my anxiousness. In the last few years I have come to see my anxiety as a useful reminder that something is amiss. It is God’s way of speaking to me, bringing awareness to the aspects of my life that need more careful attention. So as I enter into the Christmas season, the anxiety that I experience tells me that I am not to speed my life up and become more and more busy, but rather, I am to slow down and give attention to what is truly important. And what is important is that “God with us” calls me to slow down and partake in the quiet peace that He offers.

Advent has served as a helpful correction in my life, bringing into focus the central message of Christmas. That message is that a little over 2000 years ago, God ushered into our anxious lives a quiet peace. It is in that quite peace that I experience the salvation that He has brought. It is an abundant life that is not drowned out by the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season.

This Advent I am working to slow down and enjoy the quiet peace that God offers. And as I slow down and bask in this quiet peace I find that I am much more aware of the truly important things that God wants to offer me this Christmas…time with family…the pure joy on my children’s faces as they anticipate Christmas…the peaceful time with my wife as we talk about life over a cup of coffee. These are just some of the life giving details of my life that I can only experience when I enter into Emmanuel’s quiet peace this Advent.