I’m here to tell you what I’ve learned about Advent and challenge you.
First, two stories:
1) I recently found a spiritual director in the great (cold) state of North Dakota. He gave me homework after our meeting. He said we’re reverting to kindergarten. I was ordered, by my spiritual director, to take a nap everyday.* Also, I have to set aside times for meals and actually sit still during those times.
2) Last year when I was home during Christmas break**I remember being so bored. I asked my mom, “I’m bored, what can I do? Do you have any projects for me? Can we go somewhere? Can I cook supper? Can I bake something? I want to do a craft…do we have any crafts?” (Oh, by the way, I really did throw that all out there in probably one breath and under 5 seconds.) Anyway, I remember her saying, “Just watch TV. If you can’t just sit there and relax for a few minutes you have a problem.” I thought, “You should be happy I get bored watching TV, doesn’t that make you happy? I thought parents don’t want their kids to watch TV?”
Why did I tell you these stories? Because I’m slothful. Now, you may think that sloth is laziness. And I did too. But, here’s the thing… My spiritual director told me what sloth was. Yes, it can be laziness. But you can be slothful and super busy (trust me, I do everyday!). How? Well, let’s say you have set aside a half hour on Tuesday at 3:30pm to balance your checkbook. At 3:30 you sit down to do just that. You get distracted. You think before I can balance my checkbook I should really look at my credit card balance and pay that. After you pay the credit card balance you check your rewards–maybe you have enough to redeem them and get something cool. Then, you realize something else that’s pretty important and you should probably do before you get to your checkbook–the checkbook can wait; this can’t. Next thing you know, it’s midnight or 1am and you have. not. stopped. working. But, here’s the kicker, did you balance your checkbook? No, of course not. There were so many other important things to do.
So, sloth can be not doing what you’re supposed to be doing at the current moment. Hence, I’m supposed to stop and eat instead of quick eat while I’m prepping Bible study and doing at least 100 other things. I’m supposed to nap too. I’m supposed to just stop doing things and be. I love administrative tasks. I (seriously) think that sitting down at night and scheduling out while I’ll be doing the next day is totally fun! I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve sat down and done just that. I can, however, count the number of times I’ve actually followed what I’ve scheduled out. My four-month-old niece can also count the latter because, though she can’t count, the total is zero. Seriously, I’ve scheduled out my days so many times and not followed it, ever.
Why, Jane are you boring me with your struggles with sloth when I thought this post was about Advent?
I’ll tell you why, curious (and perhaps, judgmental) reader. It’s because, no matter how noble my intentions, I’ve stopped many times on December 23rd on my way home for Christmas to “quick buy Christmas presents.” (Sorry family, it turns out I frequently get your presents last-minute…) Anyway, I would buy them on my way home from Madison and have to spend part of Christmas Eve wrapping my presents. That’s valuable time I could be spending with my nieces and nephew (oh, and sisters, bros-in-law and parents, of course!). It’s also stressful. Annoying…
Buying my Christmas presents last-minute also makes my focus of Advent off-base. My Advent is spent postponing Christmas shopping because I have other things I just have to do first. Things that I’ve decided are way more important and not as urgent as Christmas shopping. So, suddenly, it’s December 23rd and I have finally. got. to. do. that. Christmas. shopping.
The third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday or Joy Sunday. That means you light the pink candle and the priest can wear pink vestments. I love pink. This should be one of my favorite Sundays of the year. But, is it? No. Instead of being filled with joy and anticipation of Christ’s coming to earth, I’m filled with stress. The pink candle means only two more weeks until Christmas. Oh, crap. I haven’t bought any presents yet!
A couple weeks ago we hosted a Spiritual Impact Bootcamp through FOCUS. Two missionaries (and FOCUS’s chaplain) came up from Colorado to lead the retreat. One of them was talking about how her day off after she got back to CO would be spend doing her Christmas shopping. I thought she was STRAIGHT CRAY (a.k.a. really crazy). It was November 11th and she was going to get her Christmas shopping done.
Well, I dropped them off at the airport at about 4 o’clock on Monday after the retreat and…wait for it…I went Christmas shopping. She inspired me. She was talking about how she felt the Lord calling her to take Advent slowly and not get caught in the typical hustle and bustle of the coming of Christmas. For some reason (thanks Holy Spirit), I turned my car right out of the airport toward Target instead of left toward campus. Next thing I know, I was heading home with most of my Christmas presents acquired.
I shook my head in disbelief. Now, I can celebrate Advent! What the heck? I’m so excited! I plan on having these presents wrapped, making my final purchases and taking all the gifts home with me when I go back to Wisco for Thanksgiving next week.
Not only does that mean I can enjoy Advent and prayerfully await the coming of Jesus. It also means that, when I arrive in Wisconsin before Christmas, I can spend time with my family. I can watch sweet niece Thérèse do things like talk about her “big blueberry eyes” and turn the fridge setting to “off” so all the food gets spoiled. I can play trucks with Joseph and change baby Zelie’s diapers***. I can help my mom cook whatever crazy thing we decide to have for Christmas this year–pizza? German food? Only appetizers? I can take my time getting pretty to meet Jesus at Christmas Eve Mass instead of quickly throwing on my dress because I just finished wrapping my presents.
So, My Advent challenge: Schedule a time to buy Christmas presents. Don’t be slothful. Schedule that time and stick to it. Try and get them done before Advent starts (Sunday, December 1st). If you’re a fellow mish or a student, get them all wrapped before you trek home for Christmas break. And, most of all, celebrate Advent. Jesus is coming to earth as a poor, helpless, infant in order for you to HAVE ABUNDANT, ETERNAL LIFE! Celebrate. Pray. Be eager for His arrival.
At the Thirst Conference I bought a book to help me prepare for Christmas. I (obviously) haven’t read it yet because Advent hasn’t started yet and I bought it a month ago. But, I’ve read other things by Dr. Sri and can highly recommend them, so I’m sure this won’t disappoint. But, if you’re interested, order yourself a copy of The Advent of Christ by Edward Sri and celebrate Advent with me. It has daily reflections to lead your through Advent. (Also, available for the Kindle!)
(P.S. Here’s a pic of the book:)
Just remember, Advent is about the coming of baby Jesus in a manger. It’s the coming of our Salvation. It’s not a countdown to when you need to have your Christmas presents bought!
Will you join me in the great Advent Challenge?!
*You may think this sounds awesome. So did I. Until the day after spiritual direction. I got ready to take a nap, set an alarm, and laid down. 5 minutes later, I couldn’t sleep and wanted to get up and just get stuff done. Well, I couldn’t. I had to just sit there and wait, and wait, and wait until “nap time” was over. I now know how 5-year-olds feel when they just don’t want to nap and you make them!
**Being an Intern at St. Paul’s at UW-Madison was the best job because I got all of winter break off with the students (and, obviously, for many other reasons)… Win!
***Yeah, right. I’m not changing her diapers. That’s Emma, my lil’ sis’s job.