How does one really “prepare” for Advent? I know most years I’ve found myself halfway through the season, stressed out, with half-finished projects and a disappointed heart that yet another liturgical season had passed me by – le sigh, I say.
For some reason, several weeks ago, I saw the notice in the school e-newsletter. The Ann Arbor Dominicans were hosting a Women’s Retreat, the weekend prior to Advent. I hemmed and hawed for a few weeks. You know, because I was busy. Then the notice appeared in the parish bulletin and it popped up on Facebook. I took that as multiple signs as if God was saying, “Yo, Kathryn. Seriously. Get yourself signed up to go.” I consulted with the husband, figured out the 8,000 logistics for the kids and their activities and got myself registered for the retreat.
What I gained from my 24 hours with God, Dominicans and some awesome girlfriends was just what my heart needed to hear. I don’t know if it’s what your heart needs to hear to prepare for Advent, but I’d like to share my biggest lessons from my time away.
1. You are worthy of God’s love. No really, you are. Just the way you are. As a wife and mother, I’ve gotten caught in the trap of believing that if I just do a little more, love better or add this “other thing” to my schedule, then God will think I’m good enough to love. Surely, he can’t love me in my brokenness right now, can He? That’s a pretty crummy container to put God in, gals. And, a lovely speaker reminded me.
2. Say no. In the last few weeks alone, I’ve gotten at least a dozen messages about doing “something”: from collecting small gifts for teachers, to attending birthday parties or open houses to taking on new clients. I’ve said no to just about all of them. And, you know what? I don’t feel the least bit guilty. It actually feels good to say no. Last night, I sent out two such messages. It was freeing. Liberating, almost. I’m consciously thinking about my “yes” – is it adding to our family’s Advent season? Or, is it taking away from it? It’s exceptionally hard for me to admit that I can’t do it all. I’m a doer. At the same time, things in my life were starting to suffer and the retreat reminded me that God is asking me to do fewer things well. I heard him loud and clear.
3. Spend some time in adoration and go to confession or a penance service. There are a few parishes in our diocese that offer perpetual adoration. Get yourself to one, even if it’s only for 15 minutes. There is a peace that comes from sitting in the presence of God that you cannot find anywhere else. It’s also a beautiful time of year to attend a penance service or go to confession. I was able to go this weekend and it was liberating.
4. Write down the things that mean the most to you this Advent. What do you really want to do with your family? Circle the ones you want to make a priority and then burn the rest of the list. You will not – you cannot – get it all done. Instead, focus on a few and rest in knowing that you’re called to doing those well.
5. Turn off the TV, limit your mall/shopping time and put those circulars in the recycle bin. Nothing distracts a peace-filled heart like the secular world. Just visit Pinterest for goodness sake, you’ll see all the ways you’re failing as a parent over there. Oh, you didn’t handmake your Advent wreath, craft your teacher’s gifts or wrap the presents in recycled paper decorated by your children with Christmas music playing in the background? That’s too bad, because everyone else did, you know.
6. Don’t set perfection as the benchmark for a perfect Advent. You may make that list I mention above and then get halfway through Advent and realize all you’ve done is lit the candle on the Advent wreath. Are you focusing on how to love God more this season or how to squeeze in that last shopping trip for yet another Christmas present? Just love the season, bask in its beauty, enjoy the music, admire the decorations, ask for forgiveness and praise God for your blessings. He will lead you to the perfect Advent.
Happy first week of Advent!
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