Confession: many years, I’m a self-appointed Advent slacker. I can’t seem to pull myself up to the levels of excellence it seems that “Good Catholic Moms” everywhere else are able to achieve.
Of course, most of the moms I talk to — who are Good Moms, no doubt about it — don’t do it all. In fact, off the top of my head, I can’t think of anyone who does it all.
But somehow, I remain convinced that such a mom exists, and that she is the standard to which I must hold myself.
And there’s nothing like the season before Christmas to make me aware of it.
Jesse Tree? No. Advent reflections every day? Nope, sorry. Prayer with the kids? Well, sometimes. Advent wreath with appropriately awed children gathered around? Only if you ignore the pyromaniacal tendencies lurking just under the table.
Advent, it seems, isn’t just under attack out in the world; it’s under attack in my own home.
It occurred to me, just this year in early November, that I’m looking to the wrong model. Instead of looking to Cathy Catholicness or Betty Blogdohdee, I should be looking to Jesus’ own mother.
This year, I find myself (once again) very pregnant. I’m tired, and cranky, and full of things that need done that have nothing to do with Advent. There are the usual lists, the things that are never done like laundry and housework and errands; there are the work lists of writing and editing and billable hours; and there are the extra lists filled with gift ideas and budgets and schedules. Like every other person out there, I’m juggling extra at Advent, and there’s this expectation that I’ll be holy and happy and not harried or bah-humbuggy.
It’s only possible if I’m turning to Mama, because as I feel the stirrings of life within me, I’m reminded that this waiting has a larger purpose.
We’re really not here for the gifts. We’re not here for the special programs. We’re not even here for the family get-togethers.
We’re here, in Advent, because we desperately need a Savior.
As we wait for the Nativity to come to us, we can picture Mary anticipating the Baby. She was, I think, bursting with Jesus as that first Advent. She had to be as eager as any mom in history to meet the person who had been bouncing on her bladder and kicking her ribs, who was no doubt interrupting her sleep and her eating and her entire life.
And, to top it off, this person inside her was her Savior. He was the Messiah. He was the long-awaited One, the fulfillment of everything she had waited for.
How can I remain cold to the season, immune to the cheer, unable to celebrate, in the face of what’s coming? Because yes, I’m traditionally
Here are three easy things I’m going to do this year to keep myself from being an Advent slacker, inspired by Mary:
Involve my family.
My first child was born a week after Christmas. That first Advent pregnancy was eye-opening for me, but ever since her birth, I’ve been struggling to parent through Advent. This year, she’s nine (soon to be ten). I’m going to let her help me take charge and tap into her natural leadership skills. I expect this will also add to her anticipation and understanding of the season.
And you know what? Peer pressure and sibling rivalry are a wonderful thing: the others will see her helping and being involved…and they won’t be able to help themselves.
Keep it simple.
I tell myself this every year, but I’m a slow learner. I always forget that simplicity is key in this season of chaos and busyness.
We’ll be using an Advent wreath and an Advent calendar with different activities (inspired from Kathleen Basi’s great Joy to the World) for each day. Some of the activities will be pure fun, like eating chocolate or family movie night. Others will be service oriented, like making Christmas cards for grandparents or making cookies for neighbors. Still others will be focused on the faith aspect of the season, like making a manger for Baby Jesus (so that we can fill it with straw for our good deeds).
And that’s it. That’s all we’re doing. Does that make me a slacker? Well, only if I allow myself to play the comparison game.
Insert prayer…and Confession.
One of the great advantages of Advent is that it’s a penitential season. I don’t know about you, but I all too conveniently avoid Confession, even though I know better. I all too easily fail to spend as much time in quality prayer as I could…and should.
Advent’s a great time to insert some prayer. There are a number of resources that make this easy, including Father Robert Barron’s daily reflections and the Magnificat Advent Companion (which is available as a booklet, an app, or an eBook). This doesn’t have to be hard, and it doesn’t have to take more than a few minutes.
How often during my day do I stop to scratch my head, get up and walk around, pour a drink? One of my personal weaknesses is before bed prayer, and I see Advent as an opportunity to reclaim some of these lost moments and sanctify them. Whether I use an actual Advent book, app, or website, or just pause to talk to Mary and ask her to lead me closer to her Son as we approach his birth, these are small moments that can make a big difference.
Now, share YOUR wisdom.
Over the years, I’ve learned that the best resource I have is the many people around me, whether readers or moms or friends. What works for others might just work for me, too! So please, chime in and share how YOU will be celebrating and observing Advent!
A few of my favorite Advent resources, including books, resources, and apps, can be found on my website at www.snoringscholar.com/advent.