St. Andrew Christmas Novena
Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born Of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour grant me, I beseech Thee, O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of His blessed Mother. Amen.
In an early morning conversation today with my close friend who had been my bridesmaid, I came face to face with an issue: my husband’s work obsession. And its spillover effects on the family. It is one I constantly wrangle with – but with no real and lasting solution. We are both deeply committed to our work and we are deeply committed to our family. I come home two to three hours before my husband, which means that I’m the first to wade into the kids’ world and their needs. It falls to me to identify issues and either solve them immediately or at least get the solutions in motion. It is on me to see to the homework, drive the kids to their academic coaching classes. The laundry, the dinner. Their spiritual journeys. Their training in discipline. Disciplining them. Trying to keep a straight face doing it, given my penchant for giggling at the wrong times. Loving them. Having the first listen to the stories and jokes they fight with one another to get out. That’s without mentioning being in the thick of the kids’ endless squabbles. The being on near constant alert for covert warning signs of something not quite right, hidden stones in the stream.
All this flows alongside my battles to overcome work demons that follow me home.
My husband comes home a couple of hours later after the fights have been settled, the stories and grievances aired, dinner prep on. The kids are calmer, most of the ants expelled from their insides. Being incredibly close to their dad, he gets all the stories they tell me – but with much of any bite and hurt erased.
Their evening and dusk schedules on full steam, my husband gets to pick the carriages he wants to ride on: the quick athletics training, forays into the garden, dinner if I ask him. He’s a wonderful, wonderful dad, tenderly helping them start their flower and vegetable beds, prodding them to think, and explaining the science behind the world around them. He ignores his exhaustion and helps the older ones with their studies with a willingness and patience I don’t have.
But he also comes home loaded up with frustrations with work and the world at large and spills everything on me – the narratives and the effects they have on him that he won’t deal with. Kind man that he is, he listens to my day. But he prays for me only when specifically asked. And since I’m slow on asking anyone except the saints for their prayers, that’s not a road I’ve worn down much. My beloved doesn’t spend himself emotionally on my struggles. My battles are mine. His is a cheery confidence that I can handle it. When I get teary, he gets jokey. He also seems to think I have a bottomless capacity for listening. Once he begins on his work issues, it never ends. Being the keen ‘world traveller’ he is, from work problems he migrates to world issues. And back again to work problems. Somehow, there’s always a connection between the two.
The kids could burn the house down, he’d leave me to put the fires out, helpfully stirring himself to throw a pail or two at the recurrent flames.
To be fair, he doesn’t expect me to solve any of his issues; he just wants that listening ear. But I’m not the merely-ear type; every cell of me goes into my listening. And it wears me out beyond words.
It brings me to days like today, nine to Christmas, trying to find God, trying to make Christmas beautiful for the kids, yet tired, foggy, fighting to stay calm and not book a ride on the rollercoaster.
These are days I’d rather ignore – especially during Advent – hoping they’d evaporate somehow. But my conversation with my friend today unearthed it all. I could barely dig my nails into the ground to stop sliding into the shadows of hurt and frustration. My descent brought other shadows edging closer too – ones that I will Advent to give me a break from.
I can’t pray for him anymore, Lord, I spoke from my heart. I saw myself holding on to a wooden beam, my grip slacking. I know I shouldn’t be this way, but I can’t hold on anymore.
My husband is my best friend and I know I am his too. We laugh with each other as much as we fight. I know God has helped me so many times over this particular thorn, but today, it just didn’t seem enough anymore. Any good soul would tell me to persevere in humble prayer, what good is professing a faith if you won’t carry your Cross?
But I couldn’t take him to the Lord in prayer today.
Today, even the simplest pilgrimage every wife must make, was beyond me.
I shared none of this helplessness with my friend. But miles away, deep in her own greys of loneliness and emptiness, the winds must have borne her some unspoken message from my spirit. She sent me a Christmas novena, one for each day right up to the Eve. It was just sent to me, she explained.
Even as I eagerly reached for it, hoping it held in its bosom an answer to my seeking, a strange dryness swept over the plains of my heart, and I knew the novena was not meant for me.
But almost at the same instant, I felt a sudden and quick piercing. With it came a memory.
St. Andrew’s Christmas Novena. And the turn of spirit that a winter was coming.
Today, I am no closer to discernment of the meaning of that winter than I was when my spirit first heard it that last breath of November. As I pass my eyes over the words of the novena, my spirit does not react to the words, piercing cold, as it did the last time. By this I understand that the veil has been slipped back in place. This time, it is not about what lies ahead.
What matters is the present. Thus, I rise to begin my Christmas pilgrimage.