By Harmony Harkema
“Make it your ambition to live a quiet and peaceful life.” ~1 Thessalonians 4:11 (paraphrased)
When we first talked about doing a series on what the traditional church calendar identifies as Ordinary Time, I had no inkling of the longing that would accompany this season for me, of the way I would want to remove all the trappings of Advent before the twelfth day of Christmas (known as Epiphany and remembered by the church as the day the Magi visited the newborn Christ–see Matt. 2:1-11). I had planned to keep the Christmas tree up until January 6. My husband left November 19 to spend four months working far away in Kenya, not something we planned for or expected to mark the end of 2016. I thought extending Advent as long as possible, drawing out the celebration of special days, of preparation for the Savior of the world, would make the first months apart sweeter and more bearable.
Then, the week my husband left for a few final days of training prior to his departure for Kenya, I went to the doctor. I had some strange stomach pains. Anxiety, perhaps? Did I have an appetite, he asked? No, not really. He was worried about appendicitis. He ordered a CT scan.
A few days later, he called me. No appendicitis, but the radiologist had seen a growth in the lower lung–a nodule, less than three centimeters. Not anything that looked really concerning, but he wanted to be sure. He’d ordered a PET scan. A few days later, I lay back in a recliner in a darkened room in the outpatient wing of the hospital, covered with warm blankets as they injected me with the radioactive dye that would highlight anything unusual. “Don’t think about anything stressful,” the radiology tech said. “Just relax.”
A week later, another call from my doctor. He was referring me to a pulmonologist, he said. The appointment was already made.
The pulmonologist was kind. There were more nodules, he said. All over my lymph nodes, plus the one in the bottom of the lung. They could be nothing serious, but could be something. Five somethings, in fact. Three possible infections, two possible cancers. They had to be sure. I’d have a biopsy. Next week. “Don’t let this ruin your Christmas,” he said. His voice was kind, gentle.
I stumbled out to the car, stunned and breathless. It was December 19.
I won’t go into the ensuing battle betwixt fear and faith. There isn’t space here. Suffice it to say that by the time I walked through the hospital doors on December 29 for the biopsy, I felt like I’d been through a long, dark, airless tunnel. I felt like I’d been paralyzed. The war between dark and light is never easily fought.
Late that afternoon, after I was awake, the pulmonologist stopped by my room. The prognosis looked good, he said. Things looked normal (i.e. not like cancer). Of course, the pathology report would tell.
When I woke up on December 30, I thought, I just want to move on, past this Christmas. I want to take walks and stir soup and bake brownies and read The Lord of the Rings all over again. I want to fold little girl laundry and teach my preschooler how to ride her new bike and go to church and count the days until my love comes home again.
Yesterday, I took down the Christmas tree. I returned the bins and boxes of decorations to the attic. I moved furniture, tidied bookshelves, found places for new toys in the playroom. I washed sheets and swept floors. Tomorrow, I see the pulmonologist to hear what I believe will be good news. I am ready for it. And after the chaos and uncertainty of the past six weeks, I am ready for Ordinary Time.
When the threads of life feel worn, Ordinary Time–the slow, ordered days that mark out the time between Lent and Advent–can be a gentle gift. A time to sit with God in the quiet. A time to feel creation buzzing quietly around us. A time to rest, to be restored. Advent and Easter are wondrous, but we need Ordinary Time too, especially after we have walked through a dark valley.
In 1 Thessalonians, Paul counsels the church to aim for a quiet life. Some translations say a peaceful life. I like the idea of both. But I think we are mistaken if we believe Paul meant a quiet and peaceful life in an external sense. I believe he meant we should seek the quiet and the peace within. We live in a world where our quiet, our peace–our faith–may be shaken daily. We have to find the peace that can withstand the storms, the peace that comes only from a deep and abiding relationship with Christ. I believe God gifts us with Ordinary Time so that we will learn to abide in him, to rest in the quiet spaces within ourselves, and to find beauty there.
Harmony Harkema has loved the written word for as long as she can remember. A former English teacher turned editor, she has spent the past eight years in the publishing industry. A novelist and blogger in the fringe hours of her working mom life, Harmony has a heart for leading and coaching aspiring writers. Harmony lives in Memphis with her husband and two daughters. She blogs at harmonyharkema.com.
Photograph © Annie Spratt, used with permission