Have you ever made quesadillas? There’s an art to it, much like pancakes. You’re looking to strike that perfect balance of temperature and patience, applying enough external heat to melt the cheese and brown the tortilla, but not so much as to burn the outer, leave the inner cold, and render the whole thing inedible. It’s an exercise in prudence and wisdom and, most of all, self-restraint with the process.
In other words, it’s a lot like observing Advent with children.
I’ve only been doing this mothering gig for fourteen years now, so I’m certainly no expert, unless you count being an expert in making mistakes. And I have made a lot of mistakes in the observation of Advent with kids. Luckily, much like my fondness for quesadillas, I have a deep desire to keep at it, to find that perfect balance which will result in the quintessential Advent with my children—flawless in execution and results.
Unfortunately, such a thing does not exist. There is no “perfect Advent”, not with kids, nor with ourselves, because we are not perfect people. If we were, we wouldn’t even need Advent. But we aren’t, so we do, and the reasons for this time of preparation change from year to year, and person to person. So any notion that if we will, as parents, just find the right mix of Pinterest-worthy activities combined with child-friendly Ignatian spirituality, somehow assure the eternal salvation of our children needs to be thrown out with those overcooked quesadillas.
The best piece of advice I can offer in regards to observing Advent with your children is this: remember what it’s for and who it’s for.
The what is easy: Advent is to ready our hearts for the coming of the Christ Child.
The who is somewhat trickier. On the one hand, it seems that Advent is for Christ, for His arrival into our hearts. But if we remember that Advent is a season of preparation, the real who of Advent becomes clearer. Advent is for us. Christ is, by His very nature, already perfect. But we’re not. So we set aside that lead up to Christmas to help us get ready for His arrival. But how? Not surprisingly, the how of that preparation has no one-size-fits-all answer.
As a parent, you know your children better than anyone. You know which ones would be horrified getting their hands dirty making adorable Advent lanterns but would blossom when taking the time to visit the sick. You know which ones would crack open all their (and their siblings’!) Advent calendars and swipe the chocolate, but would excel at remembering to put on the ornaments for the Jesse Tree. As a parent, you know better than anyone that God made each child a unique creation, and He calls them to Him in distinct ways.
In our social media-saturated culture, it is easy to conflate doing with being. That somehow, if we miss days on the well-meaning “Random Acts of Kindness Advent Calendar”, we’ve done a terrible disservice to our children. But the truth is, a proper and efficacious observation of Advent will always be fluid, changing from person to person and year to year. If you’ll forgive beating the metaphor to death, as parents, we have to channel our inner quesadilla-chef, and make sure we’re applying the even heat of the Gospel, but not at such a level where we burn ourselves- and our children- out. We should focus on helping our children’s hearts melt for Christ, to be people who are humble enough to face their shortcomings, and brave enough to want to change them.
In short, parents are called to die to a sense of “doing Advent right” in favor of “letting Advent do us well”. We are called to not only assess our particular needs for this Advent (action or prayer? acts of service or acts of contemplation?) but also the needs of all our individual children. Then, to make the whole thing even more challenging for parents, we need to help equip our children with the tools to assess their own Advent needs so they may become devout adults, active in the Faith.
Really, the whole process is exhausting. And then when you add the public aspect of social media, of “evangelizing the culture” via Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest, it becomes little more than a temptation to turn the burner on full heat and run the risk of burning all those quesadillas.
As we enter Advent this year, let us ask the Holy Spirit to reveal first the areas needed for our preparation, and then give us the guidance needed to see our children’s. And above all, let us not forget to pray to be delivered from the temptation to turn the heat on too high in order to get results prematurely. Because there are few areas where culinary skills and catechism intersect so neatly as the Advent season.