The Advent of Unbelief

Advent is upon us, and everyone seems to be writing about it. But actually my Advent started back on November 15, which is when Orthodox Christians enter into the nativity season. So like every year, we put up the Christmas decorations on the weekend of the 15th. We got out our little Advent tree and the ornaments that the kids put on it night by night. We bought an Orthodox Advent calendar with forty little windows to open.

I am going through the motions, but can I tell you? Just a week or two before Advent I went to confession. I wasn’t planning on it. I hadn’t made a list of things to ask forgiveness for. It was a day that I didn’t really want to be at church. But I was. And when I saw one of the priests standing at the back waiting to hear confessions, on a whim I went back there. I crossed myself and kissed the icon of Jesus and prayed the prayer from the laminated sheet. Let me tell you, that prayer pretty much covers all sins. But the priest still asks if you have anything to add. And when the time came for me to list my sins, the only thing I could say was, “I am struggling with doubt and unbelief.” I couldn’t say much more because I was crying too hard. My priest comforted me and passed no judgment. Afterwards, I went to the bathroom and washed my face, which was dripping with black smudges from my make up.

This little baby whose birth we are anticipating changed the world, there’s no doubt about that. He changed my world – he made it, he has been the reason for every stich in the fabric that shapes my life. But did he really come to die for my sins? I don’t know what that means anymore. I dig through my own perfection issues and wonder how much church had to do with my constant need to be good and pleasing to others. I wonder how many times those verses about humility and sacrifice and selflessness were used to produce good little robots. I look at all my unanswered prayers and wonder if anyone really heard them. But, on the other side, I know that this, of all religions, has grace, has a clause for all the never-good-enoughs: Redemption. Renewal. All things being made new. I balance these ideas side by side, wondering where the scale will fall.

My mom gifted me with an online Advent course, and when I first found out about it, I wondered if I could handle it or not. But on the very first day when the very first email arrived, it said:

“I began to wonder what it might look like to make a map in the dark: a map for the dark, a map stitched together of mystery and shadows, questions and wonderings. I began to imagine a map that will not tell me where I should go but instead will help me to see where I have been and to recognize what was occurring in the landscape of my life in ways I couldn’t perceive at the time. I began to dream of a map with wounds, with holes; a map that bears witness to what has been torn away, even as it allows space for light and illumination to enter, and for new paths to emerge from the dark.” (quote is shared with permission from Jan Richardson, a United Methodist minister, writer, and artist. Check out her website HERE.)

Maybe beliefs have been my map for existence, all those Bible verses and theology lessons and readings and hymns gouging out a path for me to walk on. Maybe my years of prayers carved out canyons through which waters could flow. What might happen if I step off the familiar trails and rivers? Can I trust that I won’t fall through the earth? Will God be able to find me out there in the unknown?

A map in the dark. A map for the dark. A map with holes and wounds and scars and rips. I can handle such a map. It is a map for a girl like me who finally started asking hard questions, for a girl who got lost in the middle of the place she knew the most.

This, then, is the map that takes me forward this Advent – towards belief or unbelief, I don’t know.

But even a map for the dark can hold hope.



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  1. Cassie Hansen says:

    The best confessions are those that you don’t plan but are urged by he Holy Spirit.

    Lord I believe, help my unbelief.

    That has been the only source of comfort for me during hard times. Thank God.

      • Cassie Hansen says:

        I knew it was him, I just didn’t say anything in case you didn’t want to reveal it. 🙂 He is good for confession- I went to him myself for a while years ago. (((HUGS)))

  2. I loved this post. So honest. Not only what you write here, but that you allow yourself to be honest about what you are thinking and feeling. So many of us have been where you are… or maybe we’re there right now. It’s so helpful to read this in print. And thank God for a priest who didn’t judge you!

    I just finished a post about my struggles melding the spiritual and secular traditions of the season. Also trying to be honest. Thanks for being my soul-sister! I love you.

  3. Alissa BC says:

    I’ll be holding you in my heart this advent, dear friend, as I wrestle through many of the same doubts and questions. So glad to be able to read your thoughts and be on the journey with you. <3

  4. Lily Dunn says:

    Maybe this is wrong of me, but I kind of think Advent is an appropriate time to wrestle with unbelief. Advent is about longing for the savior. Longing for restoration and hope for the world. I would also say it’s about longing for something (someone) to believe in. Maybe for you this Advent is about longing for belief.

  5. Melynne Rust says:

    God bless the priest for his compassion. God bless your mom for her gift to you. God bless Jan for her words that have a way of affirming you are not alone. And God bless you for your courage to be true to who you are. Looking forward to being on the advent journey with you.

  6. Melodye says:

    Hi Karissa, I came to this blog by way of Susan Cushman’s blog–no map, but hey! Oftentimes it’s the unexpected off ramps that prove the most interesting. 🙂

    As the daughter of a faith-healing evangelist, I’ve oftentimes found myself traveling the dark, winding roads between Doubt and Belief, wishing for metaphoric night goggles and a clear path forward. And so it is that I am glad to have stumbled across this blog, and Susan’s. Happy, too, for this season of Light and reflection, and for the unexpected joys that come of finding myself among kindred spirits. Looking forward to sharing more experiences with you along this journey.

  7. CB says:

    “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” ~Isaiah 9:2

    If there is ever a time of year to question, to wonder, it is Advent. For all the joy and hope the season brings, there has always been something of what you describe for me. I think it’s there in the Bible too. Images of darkness and night, the long years between the Old Testament and the New. Ask the questions, seek the map, and hold onto the hope of faith…even and especially when it seems hollow. The dawn will come again.

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