The best part about Chinese New Year in China is how quiet it is. The worst part about Chinese New Year in China is how quiet it is.
Even though the country has gained fame worldwide for its epic firework displays, the government effectively shut that down two years ago with a ban on fireworks of any kind within the city limits. So even the noisy part we always looked forward to, with rockets racing past our windows and the streets running red with paper confetti from the bowels of so many dismembered firecrackers, is now something of a bygone era. Instead, the city becomes peaceful and quiet. The shops are closed down. Seven million of the 14 million people have left for their hometowns. Most of the foreigners have left the country for the warm beaches of Thailand. And if I’m not careful, the quiet can become a little deafening.
Deafening because even though a two-week break from school and work promises rest, it is also a lot of work. There are that many more people at home all day who want to eat, while most of the markets and restaurants are closed. We are home, but friends are away and more family time requires energy and thoughtfulness. And for me, there is this ever-present grind against the enclosing walls of the concrete city. I want to send the kids outside to play… and so they go, literally, to a place we call Concrete Park. I want to breathe deeply of air that sweeps through my lungs without depositing soot or chemicals or dangerous pollutants. Instead, we close the windows and turn on the air filters. I look at everyone leaving for a holiday and wish we too could flee.
But we stay… and we stay together, in the quiet, making food and watching Olympic curling. And soon, I can see how even here in what feels like boredom, or missing out, or the land of Not What We Wanted, we are finding there is plenty of space for good things to grow.
These kids. Forced to find the good in one another (or at least be with each other anyway) they are learning in these close quarters, that love considers others first and is always most fulfilled when it is most poured out. And as much as I wish they could grow strong exploring hills and rivers, I have to remember and delight in the particular experiences that are shaping their lives. I love that though we have had to stay in China instead of roaming beaches or other vacation spots, they have seen China—the kinds of places in China that make your heart swell and your love for this place and it’s people and history expand.
And this house. At the beginning of the year, I decided to give myself the goal of not spending any money on our house for the entire year. Groceries and toiletries excluded, this was mainly aimed at taking a rest from focusing on or giving resources towards decorating, updating, or replacing broken things in our home. I wanted to give that energy and those resources elsewhere, and challenge myself to make do with what I have, something that feels like a lost art in our modern world. And so, as the last few weeks of quiet descended, and we began to launch into cleaning-out-the-closets projects that eventually grew into a re-arranging-the-entire-house project, the restriction of buying less actually created space for us to create more. We put our heads together to make the rooms more effective in meeting the changing needs of our family. We worked and re-worked ideas to make all the furniture and storage bins and décor fit the newly arranged plans. And we saw spaces open up we had never envisioned before.
And my heart. I have to believe this Less is More is as true in the quieter parts of the soul as it is in any living room. Restriction, limitation, not getting just what you want, the parameters closing in… these are the stuff that souls of steel are made of. In my loneliest moments, when I think no one must understand or I’m not sure I can be the hopeful, Light-filled person I want to be, I’m brought to that truth again and again: that difficulty produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
This phrase is the turning point, and also the hardest to swallow—hope because of God’s love through the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. Oh, how little of this I sometimes feel! Is He there? Is there any refining, any growth happening? I sure feel all the trials. I’d love to feel that blessed hope too. So these small, outward sparks of hope-ful moments become like tiny monuments to me of inward happenings. I see how my kids make one small change, one small loving choice, and I see how holding back instead of spending makes creativity and generosity grow, and I see how laying out hopes and fears on the altar of my heart may just be pulling me back from lesser things and making room for a Spirit, and maybe even a love-filled life.