“The Holidays” can often feel like a roller coaster ride. This last week of November feels like we are almost at the top of the track. Soon we will crest the hill, and our roller coaster car will careen down, quickly accelerating and jerking us this way and that around sharp corners and sudden stops. Sometime around January 2, the ride will end. We will pull into the station breathless, hair flying, and maybe just a little queasy.
I don’t know if the catholic writer Thomas Merton ever rode a roller coaster. But in this calm before the storm, I have found his writing about “True Self” and “False Self” helpful. According to Merton, the false self is the person that we present to the world, the one that we think will be pleasing to others: attractive, confident, successful. The true self, on the other hand, is the person that we are before God. Merton once wrote, “If I find Him I will find myself, and if I find my true self I will find Him.” Our true self is that deep place in us that represents the combination of our unique human identity, and the image of God in us.
Our task this Advent season is to live this true self out in the midst of the roller coaster ride of our daily commitments. James Martin SJ writes:
Perhaps more to the point, the call to holiness comes whether we work in a corporate office in midtown Manhattan or as a housewife in a small house in Iowa. Whether we are caring for a sick child late at night or preparing a church dinner for hundreds of homeless men and women. Whether we are listening to a friend tell her problems over a cup of coffee or slogging late hours at work in order to help put our children through school. Whether we are patiently spending long hours listening to people in the confessional in a small church, or spending long hours memorizing our lines for a small part in a big Broadway show. Whether we are rich or poor, young or old, man or woman, straight or gay: all of us are called to our own brand of personal holiness.
What is your situation this year as we head toward Advent? Are you busy or bored? Facing your first Christmas alone, or trying to figure out whom of all your friends and family you can see? Are you alive spiritually, or dry and empty? Are you tired of giving, or hungry for a place to serve?
Roller coasters tend to be great equalizers. It’s hard to look “attractive, confident and successful” while you are hanging on for dear life. So, as long as you are strapping someone in for the roller coaster ride we call “The Holidays,” why not make it your true self?