My pink Advent candle – the one symbolizing joy – snapped in half. Mark “repaired” it to the level of functionality with a band of purple wax borrowed from the other three candles in the wreath. It now stands more or less upright with a small bend in its middle, like a broken bone that didn’t heal quite right. The purple patch is totally incongruous with the rest of the candle – not just the color, but the texture too. It’s really, really ugly. The very thing that typically fills me with warm fuzzy feelings at the mere sight of it is now unattractive to behold. Unattractive it will remain until December 17th, the third Sunday of Advent, when we can finally start burning the blasted thing. For the next week and half, it will maintain its crooked, awkward posture – a lesson in waiting, a testimony to imperfection.
The reason the candle snapped in the first place was because of my impatience. No, not exactly impatience, but because of my shooshlick-ness. Shooshlick is Pennsylvania Dutch for an impatient inner state that leads to flustered and too-hurried work, occasionally leading to more work or accidents as a result. It’s one of those beautiful dialectal words that sticks around precisely because there’s no adequate translation for it. Boy, can I get shooshlick.
I was shooshlick-ly rummaging through boxes on the second story of our Shaker-inspired workshop, surrounded by pine paneling, the late afternoon, setting sun casting a warm glow throughout the space. I could see my breath and the tip of my nose and fingers were getting chilled as I opened and closed the boxes I most expected to hold our few, but precious Advent pieces. Only two things did I seek. A simple Advent candle holder made out of a slab of black walnut, one inch thick with four simple holes for the candles and O COME EMMANUEL wood-burnt on the sides. And a pack of four candles – three purple, one pink. The candle holder was my first birthday present from Mark, made by him; the candles, my first Christmas present from my mother-in-law, made by her.
Finally, I found the right box. There they lay – side-by-side – four candles and their holder. All the candles were a bit misshapen. The summer heat had molded them out of their erect alignment, but only one was twisted beyond satisfaction – the lone pink candle. The one that waits to be lit until the third week of this preparatory season.
The heat that had mangled the rose candle was long gone and the November cold had locked it in its new, erratic form. I took one look at the annoyingly wonky wax rod in my hand, applied a little pressure back toward straight, and… SNAP!
You know the rest – Mark’s mending and my inner angst at the sight of it. I refuse to go buy another candle to replace it. This one, with its glaring flaws I must wait to burn away, has become my daily teacher.
I look at my wonky Advent candle, wishing it was different than it is, wishing it was without scars. It asks me what I’m waiting for, what I’m hoping for this Advent. I try on a few answers I’m used to hearing and saying. Answers I’m used to believing. I’m waiting for the restoration of creation; for the coming of Christ’s love and presence in the world; for all to be set right again. I want these to be my answers, but this year they ring hollow.
What am I honestly waiting for, in my day-to-day? It takes me hours of writing this very post before I’m willing to admit it: I’m waiting for perfection and this first week of Advent I’ve been shooshlick-ly trying to attain it. I want the “good life,” the crunchy, homesteading, environmentally sustainable version of the “good life.” I want our homestead to be immaculate, everything in its place, going the way we planned each step of the way. I want to be a perfect writer, posting profound and transformational blogs every week without fail. I want to stop doing and saying things that hurt my husband, that requires me to ask for forgiveness. I want to stay on top of every email, every task, every budget line, every building project, every relationship, every prayer time. I want to get to the end of the day and not have a single thing to confess.
I want to be perfect. I don’t want to be like that candle, broken and put back together with vulnerable scars for all to see. Ugh, I really don’t want that.
This Advent, I wish I could authentically long for the redemption of the earth, justice for the poor and oppressed, a world full of love. I’m afraid it will be mostly lip-service until I learn to love this little patched-up candle, until I’m willing to break open into imperfection, into vulnerability, into life.
I am definitely waiting this Advent, but not for an abstract “perfect” future. I am waiting for God to melt my wounds of perfectionism. Maybe then I’ll be free to see the presence of love and the depth of life in each sacred moment and each wonky candle. Maybe then God coming to earth as a helpless babe will start making sense.
Other Advent Scenes on the Homestead: