We missed the first Sunday of Advent. While we’ve missed nearly every Sunday mass for the last two years, this one felt particularly discouraging. 

Maybe because the day before I was heard on more than one occasion saying, “I’m going to go to mass tomorrow if anyone wants to join me,” verbally attempting to hold myself accountable.  It felt like more than another lapse, like letting myself down.  

Having social anxiety and mild agoraphobia means doing anything outside the daily routine (especially if it’s outside the house) requires an exhaustive force of effort. Add two squirrely young daughters and an agnostic eight-year-old son, and just thinking about trying to bring morning mass back into our routine wears me down.

I determined we’d dive into celebrating Advent nonetheless. Perhaps not by attending mass, but at least by unearthing (aka bringing up from the basement) the sacred objects that invite us into remembering our own family’s interpretation of liturgical ritual, restoring dormant routines.

Image courtesy of Amy Nee Walker

So, in spite of the mess — cluttered table, crabby kids and tired, distracted parents — we began to revisit the ancient stories of our faith, remembering that they too were anything but tidy. 

We lit a nubby candle on our bent, out-of-shape wreath and hung an ornament on the Jesse Tree made years ago with the help of dimpled, toddler hands.  

We remembered the beginning when the spirit hovered over darkness and dreamed of filling the nothing with life, and we sang “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” And it was good.

But still, missing the mass again — even after internally committing myself, even at the onset of this treasured season — burdened me. It felt like further evidence of my crumbling faith slipping through my fingers.

Photo courtesy of Amy Nee Walker
child-nativity scene
Image courtesy of Amy Nee Walker

Crumbling faith sounds more dramatic than it feels, and certainly more definitive. It is more of a generic doubt, peppered with a tinge of disgust and a light glaze of weary disinterest. 

I wonder if what I feel is akin to Joseph when presented with Mary’s implausible miracle and, not wanting to cause a scene, decided to quietly divorce her. In his case, he was brought on board by an angel, confirming Mary’s story, in a dream. 

Dreams were a turning point for me too, though with different results in my case. It was a couple of years ago, months into my firstborn being plagued by nightmares.

I remembered how much memorizing scripture and prayer soothed me during my own fear-fraught childhood and offered to pray with him. His eyes brimming with tears, he answered “I’ve tried praying. I’ve tried and tried. Nothing changes. I don’t think God hears me.” 

His evident sense of rejection and despair broke my heart. It also resonated with that unresolved feeling within that surfaces at the sight of suffering that seems to defy either omniscience or goodness when it comes to the character of God.

It was another two years, when he was preparing for First Communion, that our son let us know he didn’t believe in God; that the concept didn’t resonate. “I’d need more evidence,” he said. This is the position he maintains, living into his middle name, Thomas.

It’s an unsettling situation to feel compelled on the one hand to try to convince my child of the Presence of God while, on the other hand, being honest and real and sharing my own doubts.

Image courtesy of Amy Nee Walker
Image courtesy of Amy Nee Walker

The feeling of belief can come and go, and trying to force or to fake it feels too disingenuous a practice to engage in or to encourage in another. Instead we have tried to explore how we shape our sense of our place on earth and our conscience amidst the ambiguity.

The arguments for and against an interventionist God are out there and may be something worth exploring together as a family in the future. Presently I find all theological argumentation infinitely tiring.

Instead I’ve allowed my untidy feelings of discomfort with dogma to just be, holding them with curiosity and doing my best to live a loving life in the midst of the mess.

I am not anticipating an angelic message to set me straight. I am not letting fatigue and chronic doubt completely derail enjoying, learning from and sharing traditions with my family, either.

I have often thought, since the night with my frightened, forsaken-feeling son, that perhaps God answers prayer by giving us each other. And also by giving us stories; stories that shape our faith, our families and our own identities; stories that expand our vision and break open our hearts, that confound our sense of what’s possible.  

During Advent, whether or not I make it to mass, I’ll join with my little family and with the human masses of the past and present as we mourn and celebrate, as we give voice to our longing and sing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

Any Nee Walker-child-advent-wreath
Image courtesy of Amy Nee Walker



Amy Nee-Walker grew up in the middle of a large and lovely family in Central Florida. Living into questions about truth and love has led her to the Catholic Worker Movement, the Catholic Church, her incredible husband, three audacious, adorable children, and (for the time being) a home in the hills of Appalachia.