“I found Him! I found Jesus!”
A few years ago, I was praying in a small chapel during Christmas when a toddler ran right up to the manger and triumphantly held up baby Jesus. Her mother was horrified, but that experience had a deep impact on me.
That toddler’s innocence helped me to put words to the greatest desire of my heart: I want to find Jesus.
I have looked for Jesus in places where you might expect to find him. I entered a convent for a time, I pray every day with Scripture, I have attended daily Mass and gone to Confession at least once a month. And on more than one occasion, I have found Jesus. But then he seems to slip away again.
And right now, I find myself as a single woman in my mid-20s with no real direction for my life. My longest commitment is the lease on my apartment. I have a job and projects that I work on, but none of it is what I see myself doing for the rest of my life, and so I don’t know where I’ll be a year from now. In fact, thinking about what I’ll do when my lease is up sparks a mini existential crisis because everything seems like a possibility.
Really, I just want to find Jesus. In my mind, that is what I am working toward. When I find out what I am supposed to be doing in life and the person I am supposed to spend it with, then I will be on the fast track to heaven, right?
Except that’s not quite how it works. Although the constant motion of this season of life can be overwhelming, I will never “possess” Jesus. I will always wonder if I’m doing the right thing and will always find reasons to want something else.
When I look at the manger, I see the reality that working hard to “find Jesus” at all is futile. In the Incarnation, God has entered into the human experience and has come to find us. It is tempting to want to think that God only entered into the “clean” aspects of the human experience, into a beautiful family and a situation where he made plenty of friends and a clearly defined plan that never went off-track.
But in the manger and on the cross, God shows us that he did not only enter into the Instagram-worthy moments of our existence. No, he entered into the messiness and into what is real. He shows us that he is willing to go anywhere in order to find us and make his love known.
This season of life seems to be defined by what is painfully “real” — of growing into adulthood, of responsibility, and of facing my own brokenness — and I don’t really even want to be here. The idea that God would freely choose to be here with me is confusing at first, but ultimately it fills me with peace as I realize just how much he loves me and wants me to know his love.
We are not sure what exactly Jesus was doing between the ages of 12 and 32, the place where I now find myself. These were the silent years, the time when he was growing in God’s love, in “wisdom and grace,” as St. Luke tells us. It is easy to imagine Joseph teaching Jesus how to be a carpenter and Jesus running to Mary when he got his first splinter.
By becoming human, Jesus showed us that we need a time of formation and we need time to grow. I find myself challenged: If Jesus needed time in his 20s to grow and be able to fulfill his reason for existing, then why do I feel like I have to have it all figured out right now?
Every single moment in our lives is precious in the eyes of God. The very reality of human existence has been sanctified because God has united himself intimately to each and every one of us. To me, this time feels like the “silent years,” that time when I am doing nothing particularly noteworthy, but during which I pray I am growing in wisdom and grace.
One of my favorite Christmas hymns is O Holy Night because of the line, “He appeared and the soul felt its worth.” When I look at the manger this Advent and Christmas, I pray that Jesus will give me the grace of peace during this time of my life, which is marked by so much anxiety and struggle. I pray that Jesus will remind me that he is right here, united to me in all that I experience, and that I do not need to travel far, change career paths, or break my lease to find him.
This Advent I am reminded that I do not need to “find Jesus” at all. No, in becoming human, he has come to find me.