Finding Advent Light In Struggle

Thanksgiving Night in Paris 2021

-John Hugh

This past week was one of my favorite weeks of the year – Thanksgiving.  For non-Americans, it’s a public holiday where kids are out of school and families and friends gather round dining room tables to have long meals, maybe some turkey, maybe watch some football, and give thanks for all we have in life.  Although this Thanksgiving was different for our family, we are thankful for much.  I love Thanksgiving because of good food, family, football, and hunting.  Some of those were missing here in France, but we celebrated well and lived vicariously through pictures from back home.  But best of all, Thanksgiving forces me to consider what I’ve been given.

Thanksgiving weekend also opens up the Advent season, the time of waiting before Jesus’ birth, and therefore, this season tops my list as of one of my favorite times of the year.  Everyone is now playing Christmas music, even though aficionados like myself started early November, the decorations are going up, and the festivities have begun.

I love the anticipation of Christmas because Advent is all about waiting and believing in Light in the midst of great darkness.  This light will never go out because the greatest darkness can never put it out.  Why will it never go out?  It is because the Creator became the created.   Jesus Christ is Emmanuel, God with us.  The author wrote Himself into the play.  Yet what does this mean for us, in our lives today?

I recently saw a quote from Tim Keller I’d heard before and love very much.  If we truly believe this, it radically changes our lives.  It is:

There are 3 truths Christians believe that should be a constant source of happiness:  

1) Our bad things will all turn out for good (Romans 8:28).

 2) The good things we have can never be taken away from us (Romans 8:29-31, 37-39),

3) The best things are yet to come (Romans 8: 18-21).


We all struggle.  We all have dark places.  It can be loss of family members, relationships, hopes and dreams for yourself, or dreams for your children and loved ones.

Having a special needs son has been a place of struggle and darkness for me.  I’ve said it’s like dying a lot of mini-deaths regularly, even daily.  There is the death of my son not playing the sports I’d hoped for.  Or my son not having all the friends I’d wanted for him.  He simply won’t do a lot of things I’d planned for him.  I have to cling to a light that is present in those places of brokenness.

If I truly believe in the spirit of Advent, that Jesus is the ultimate Restorer, Jesus will light the darkest corners of my life.  His light never goes out in my life. When the light is present in those places of brokenness, the darkness will never overwhelm me.  Instead, the power of the Most High will overshadow me.

So our special needs child has a bright future, but his future is lit by my Savior’s light, not by my dreams or my expectations.   Here we are in France, and my wife never thought this transition would be even possible for our family 3 years ago. My expectations can be more short-sighted than God’s.   And in spite of all the challenges and buried dreams, this son has taught me so much.

Often, I think our middle child is the most spiritual of all of us.  He is the most willing to pray out loud of the three boys.  He is the most apt to believe and call on Jesus when anxiety arises – like when I get lost driving in Paris.  And he is willing to give his child-like heart to others, especially those as tender-hearted as himself like animals or young children.

That’s only one struggle of ours, even though it’s a sizable one.  The roller coaster of marriage is another struggle.   Anxiety and depression can be added to the list, even if you hold tightly to Romans 8 as a believing Christian. Really, in all of our lives, there is some form of darkness to choose from.  None of us are exempt.

So to find good news, in the darkest time of the year for half the globe, in the throes of a pandemic that seems endless, we have to cling to something undergirding our entire liveswhether you are a believer or not.  The birth of a baby 2000 plus years ago affects us individually, and if you accept the invitation of belief, your trajectory changes.

When you’re trying to do it all on your own, it only makes the burden weightier.   Jesus didn’t accidentally say, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28).

When I have tried to carry the parenting challenge on my own, I have felt weighed down.  When I have let my personal expectations for my special needs child color my joy in him, I have felt weary.   If the most important truth that holds all of our lives together is a person, a person who embodied the spectacular glory of heaven in bodily form, the creator of the universe who came to suffer like an ordinary human, then I can move aside from making it all about me and see how someone else is carrying me.

Celebrating Advent light in struggle doesn’t mean being festive all the time & hiding your true feelings over Christmas or numbing disappointments by being the life of every party.  It can simply mean taking time to be quiet and reflective.   I believe this is a big part of what it means to go to Jesus.  Think about Him.   Think about what He’s done for us, give Him your cares, and receive His rest.

This is a festive, full season and I hope I will really celebrate it, for what He has done.  I hope I can find some rest amidst everything as well, and that is not my nature.  I like to be in the middle of everything and caught up in all the trappings of Christmas.

Yet I have learned by resting and doing less activity and more reflecting, all my doing is suffused with a deeper joy and contentment.  A deeper joy that outlasts the Christmas blues once the music stops on the radio and the decorations are packed and the new year of responsibility and dashed dreams comes upon us.  I can be unafraid of the future because His light never fades in my individual life.

Read what we have been doing our first 3 months in Paris:  The First 3 Months:  Why Did You Take A Break?

Stay tuned for our next YouTube video:  “How Are Your Kids Doing?”


Thanks for reading!



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 Living through COVID-19 has taught us that seasons can change, timelines can change, but God’s mission does not.   Read our vision for 2021 (3Ps for Paris) & think about becoming a Paris Partner today.  Our Partners are the reason we can be in Paris to plant churches.

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