In my 25 years of living and in the year 2018 I have found that
now, in our world, beauty means
hiding from people that your family didn’t love you well
hiding that your family growing up isn’t kind, a safe place and put together
hiding that things in your family have still not gotten much better
and hiding that this pain has shaped a part of your brain and body.
Now, in our world, beauty means
not being dark
not being sad
not struggling with confidence
or having to be reassured.
In our world beauty means
not telling the truth of how everything is hurting
and not telling how you feel about those who perpetuate the hurt.
It means to be silent about your pain
and your questions.
Beauty means you must always be smiling
You must never show fear
never show doubt
and hope for help.
In our world, beauty is confidence
and not having to consider that the world gives you this thing called “confidence”.
(What is confidence, now, in this world, except being affirmed by the powers that be?
In our world, beauty means
that those who are ugly,
those who are dark,
must find their significance elsewhere
in another world
in order to survive.
My hope: in order to survive the world
where being ugly
and being dark
is not desired
we must find our desire for another place
where being ugly is magnificent,
is nothing to fear.
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
I have a tendency towards sadness, which is why I think I like Advent so much.
When I say “a tendency towards sadness”, I mean that not in the sense that I like or enjoy being sad, but rather… it feels honest to be sad in this world and I feel the need to pay attention to that. Christmas matters to me because of the sadness that precedes it.
Advent is the season for killjoys, an expectation for real joy.
I remember when I was doing Mission Year several years ago, feeling so much shame for my sadness. I felt like I was broken. I was suffering with deep depression, lingering feelings of childhood needs unmet, an enduring sense of loneliness that I could not shake off. I remember sensing that I have always felt this way. I have always felt sad– I just did not want to admit it to myself and I did not want others to see it. I wasn’t allowed by my family to talk about it. And, I do not live in a world that lets black girls express grief. And tiredness.
But, during Mission Year, I also remember one of my teammates challenging me when I expressed dismay and shame over my constant sadness, lamenting that I ought to never feel anything. I prayed for numbness. In response, he offered this: “If you never feel anything, if you decide to just be numb forever, you would be asking to not feel joy either. You can’t experience joy without experiencing grief.”
He said this to me, the first time that I ever heard this.
Since that time, I have been able to accept that this tendency towards sadness is okay and real.
Later, I have come to understand that this tendency towards sadness is not my fault. It is a remnant of my history on this earth; a reminder that a longing for justice has been worn into my brain and skin cells through my lived experience, this sense of sadness that doesn’t quite leave.
Advent is the season for killjoys, an expectation for real joy.
A year prior, in my first year of college, I remember having my depression explained away. Someone in the college ministry told me that maybe there was something wrong about my brain and that I needed anti-depressants and that there was nothing wrong with me. It could just be how my brain worked, she assured me, and that I am okay, and that she cares about me. She knows that we don’t talk often but she hopes that this message doesn’t bother me.
I did not know what to make of this new idea, that some brains are just sadder than others. I could not imagine at the time that maybe, while there could have been truth in that statement, maybe there was more than just this simple explanation. She was not the only one who told me this. I remember always hearing about depression this way from my college-mates that did affirm the use of anti-depressants.
I didn’t want my sadness to be dismissed. So, I became afraid of anti-depressants*, because I had concluded that if my sadness came from nowhere, that sadness was something inherent in me, about the way that I was born. I did not want my sadness to be dismissed — to be decontextualized — because I had been through a lot.
And this world is dark.
I did not want to believe my sadness came from nowhere.
I think about the Christmas story, the one that many Christians will be thinking about for the next month, and I think about the gift of frankincense and myrrh that the wise men gifted Jesus. I remember being told that these two items were given to him intentionally, because these were medicines used to cope with pain. (I don’t know what to do about the gold, so I won’t comment on that). But, I think about the life that Jesus would have, one where he would be spat upon, threatened and mocked by authorities and others in his society, and I know that any sadness Jesus felt during his ministry did not come from nowhere. The kings must have known about what kind of life Jesus would live. One where he would be acquainted with sadness and grief.
As I’ve become more honest with my own experience in the world, I know that I can now attribute this pain to much of what is happening in the world around me, whether it is that which directly affects me or something felt by communities worlds away.
Advent is powerful for me, because I can live into the mystery of this season and the complexity of my emotions as I interface with a hostile society in a precarious global climate. Advent encourages me not to put complex emotions away, because Advent reminds me that it is okay to have hope that is grounded in reality. During Advent, I can resist the compulsion towards happiness without giving into sadness. It is a season where I feel more comfortable not shaming myself for refusing to feign contentment in a dark world.
Advent is the season for killjoys, an expectation for real joy. A time that I think about The One Well Acquainted with Grief, the One that Befriended me. The One who Hopes for Joy After Grief.
Advent begins this Sunday.
*For clarity, this is not to be taken as a statement about anti-depressants. Rather, this was what I was told to believe about them at the time. If you are considering anti-depressants, please talk to a professional who can be sensitive to your needs.