The extra workload of the coming Advent/Christmas season hit hard this year. The first indication was during a choir rehearsal in mid-November. Our director informed us of the truncated schedule this year (the fourth week of Advent is obliterated due to Christmas Eve and the Fourth Sunday of Advent sharing the same day) and how we would need to cram in extra rehearsals to prepare for the Midnight Mass.
I experienced an overwhelming urge to run away, to hibernate until it was all over. The forced busyness of this time of year is becoming increasingly onerous as I grow older and I long to rebel against it.
There is a lot of pressure applied to people during the holiday season to conform to some artificial standard. Society tells us to behave in one way while the opposite is preached by our Church. Newlyweds are expected to be present at all the family gatherings despite the impossible logistics. The financially strapped are supposed to spend, spend, spend. The domestically challenged must entertain and cook up a storm. Those still licking wounds from Christmases past are supposed to act like they were never wounded. The lonely should not be lonely and the grieving should stop mourning and put it behind them.
Being gifts to each other
We are pressured to be anything but what we are at that moment. And the greatest gift we could give to each other is to let each other be.
- If someone wants to listen to Christmas music during Advent, let them. It’s not about rules; it’s about preparing our hearts for the birth of Jesus. Each person must get ready in their own way. Share the beauty of a penitent Advent by your example rather than your words.
- Let your newlyweds figure out whom to visit and how on their own terms without undue demands. The family’s greatest gift to them would be to give them space, and accept their solution.
- Let those who are under financial stress give the way that they are able, without comment (except perhaps to offer encouragement and understanding).
- Don’t expect people who are lousy cooks to throw parties and bake cookies. They have other ways of giving.
- If people are nursing wounds, feeling left out, or mourning the loss of a loved one, then listen to them and offer support rather than unwanted advice.
- And we who find ourselves in any of these situations need to be kind to ourselves: ignore the outward pressure and retreat to that place of total love and acceptance within where the Spirit of God dwells.
Grace and grief
Resisting these pressures opens us up to those things that God wishes us to see. I experienced such grace recently in speaking with a woman who had lost her husband barely a month ago without warning. She always helps out with the Christmas memorial service, of which I am in charge, at our parish. I told her she was not obligated to help out this year given her situation. She looked me straight in the eye and told me how much she wanted to help. Several others have volunteered as well, all of them coming from our parish bereavement group.
Such unabashed giving from the heart. Grief combined with Grace is powerful indeed. By allowing those in mourning to be who they are at this moment allows the light of Christ to shine through.
In the words of a famous Beatles song, “Let it be.”
Read our other Advent 2017 articles.
Copyright 2017 Susan Bailey