Addictions flare up in the weeks just prior to Christmas like mountainside wildfires on a dry, windy day. Our run-of-the mill addictions like alcohol and porn, food and internet surfing, shopping and being-right – well, those addictions will flare up for sure, but they usually end up bringing clear pain – results- like weight gain, marriage dissolution, and relationship atrophy.
Work addiction in late advent is quite another matter. The nor’easter of the weeks before Christmas – a storm of mammoth proportions – is what seems to be the American intoxication against existential pain. And the brilliance of it as a plan of Satan (there, I said it) is that there seems to be no aper trail back to the evil one. I mean we are all working so hard. If I were Satan and wanted to ruin Christmas, I would not try to destroy Christmas, I would try to destroy our ability to see Christmas by surrounding it with too many to-do lists. I would not try to kick the kitten – I would add a bunch of lions to the room. Why tempt us, when it is so much easier for Satan simply to exhaust us.
We are meeting year-end deadlines. We are clawing our way to bonuses and shopping for gifts which we hope will heal relationships but which only a conversation will heal. We are throwing parties and going to them – all the while wishing, deeply wishing, that we could just spend the time napping. We decorate with a level of exhaustion usually reserved for torture victims in asian prisons and then we try to pay all those bills in another annual cycle of work.
There is a theology to work. It has its beautiful side just like the tree orchid – so gorgeous while it kills its host. Work is our way to engage the world. It can manifest beautiful creativity. Work can make beautiful things happen. Work can also bring great satisfaction to those whose gifts are made manifest.
Someone asked me earlier this week “Why do we work so hard just before Christmas? What can we do to bring more balance to our last 12 days?”
I surprised myself when I heard myself say, out loud “We would need to be willing to daily feel our own pain in the silent pre-dawn with Jesus holding our hand.”
She looked at me as if I had just taken off my clothes.” (Shocked that is.)
Stunned, she asked me what I could possibly mean. I said “If we each could go ahead and sit for a few minutes each day and feel our own pain, we would be able to acknowledge it, and perhaps even discuss it with people we love and with Jesus. If we could intentionally feel our losses, our failures, our betrayals and the betrayals of others inflicted upon us, our disappointments, our technicolor sins, then we might find that we would not spend the rest of the day working so hard so as not to feel those very pains.
Work addiction is like any addiction except that it is camouflaged by a society of work addicts. Work addiction is simply the desperate effort to work so hard that there is never a spare moment in which to feel the pain of life. And the irony is that in feeling the pain bit by bit and day by day, we would be released to a day in which there may be peaceful times of play and rest in which pain is not being anesthetized precisely because pain was dealt with earlier in the day.
I have a dream too. I dream of a church which teaches and forms its people to have and live by a spiritual practice of daily meditation. Five minutes with a candle. Five minutes in which Jesus holds our hand while we look under the proverbial bed at the monsters we think are there – only to find they look back at us equally terrified and then, suddenly, become massive dust-balls. Our pain does not want to hurt us. Our pain wants us to listen to it and shed one single real tear. And that tear can, and will catch the light of that star. That one, bright star in the east.