Advent Day 16: For Better, For Worse

With all of the crises of the world spinning around, demanding my attention, I think to myself, It’s been a while; maybe it’s gone now. Maybe all of that self-pity and loneliness got squeezed out with Mom’s cancer, work, and kids taking up all of the space. A few weeks pass and I haven’t thought once about not hearing affectionate nothings, not being touched or looked at with longing eyes, the same old haunts I’ve harbored for decades.

Then, on our drive home from a double date with friends–a fun one, with lots of laughing and anecdotes and drinks but not too many drinks–it finds me again, quiet and sinister. Not once, it whispers, did he compliment you. Not once, it smiles, did he reach for your hand.

Nope, it’s still there, festering in its nest of barbed wire, my insecurity, my need. It doesn’t matter that we had a genuinely great time or that we’ve been married with mountains and valleys scattered for 12 years across this range.

I sit folding laundry thinking of all of the ways I could be petty in our marriage, what glee it would bring, what sting. I crease his shirts and consider balling them up and tossing–just his–into a wrinkled nest for him to deal with later. The sweetness of this small vindictiveness makes me smile a little with its ridiculousness.

I don’t say anything, over here folding laundry while he alternates between staring into the never ending Twitter news feed and watching Sunday Night Football. I think, in this advent season, how Joseph planned to divorce Mary quietly. As that sentence floats down and settles over the vision I have of our future, how I could go it alone, stop negotiating everything, steel myself to circumstances and do it, just do it, I could do this, I’ve got this, I’ll show him, my phone vibrates on the coffee table.

“Love you,” he says, via text message.

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came…”

1 Kings 19:11-15a

In case there’s any confusion about this season of advent I’ve been sharing, “God with us” does not mean all is sunshine, all is saved, all is whole. “God with us” does not mean there isn’t also darkness, bleakness, despair. All is not always calm. All is not always bright.

These days, I struggle. Life circumstances feel heavy. It is only by that mysterious Grace of prayer that peace comes regularly and carries me. When I am weary and knocked down by an unexpected stress delivered, my defense mechanism is hyper-management. I’ve got this. I can do this, I think, This is just what I have to do, me, alone. I can carry this. I don’t need any help. The retreat is sudden and silent, a quick spiral I ride down, down, down.

Sometimes sadness is a wading pool of warm water large enough for me and me alone. To get out means a lot of effort and discomfort. I don’t want to be the one to reach across the void. I want to be sought after. I let the water rise and rise and rise until it’s up to my ears and I am hollow to voices around me. I don’t want to surrender the wading pool.

But “Love you” looms in the margins. I know it’s true, even now. I know it, truer than this track on repeat, I’m alone I’m alone I’m alone. Somewhere in the wading pool another voice whispers, What are you doing here, Sarah? 

I find myself answering with my own litany of woes shouted into the wind. The woes bubble to the surface slow (all of this in my head, the pile of socks growing next to my thigh), and when I’ve burbled it all out, I hear, Go. Return. I will make a way.

I’m not alone.

“Love you too,” I text back.

I fold Brandon’s shirt in half and in half again, stack it with the others in their neat squares, daughter son son and mine, each piece rinsed free of our individual grime together in one warm load.

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

2 thoughts on “Advent Day 16: For Better, For Worse

  1. So good, Sarah! Now I’m forced to go back and read the ones I’ve missed so far… durn you! 😉 Thanks for writing these!


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