Two and a half weeks ago, my family and I gathered around our Christmas tree. Excitement and joy mingled with the festive scents of hot coffee, cinnamon rolls, and pine needles. The kids piled their gifts next to them and eagerly wondered what was inside each wrapped box.
As I sipped my coffee and breathed in Christmas goodness, I felt grateful. For the first time in forever, I felt like Christmas had arrived and I had arrived with it. I was ready to welcome the Newborn King into my heart and home. I didn’t feel like I needed a few more days to prepare or like I had rushed to finish up last-minute details — even with this being the shortest Advent possible.
What made this Advent different from all the others? Why did Advent seem to “work” for me this year, when in the past, it seemed hectic and harried?
I have always desired a peaceful, prayerful Advent. Who doesn’t? But the busyness of things to do often hijacked my Advent peace. As a mom of six, I primarily focused on my family’s Christmas preparations, and by the time I tried to enter into my personal Advent experience, I was just too exhausted. By Christmas Day, I felt like I arrived in Bethlehem out of breath and frazzled. I felt like I had “failed” miserably, disappointing Jesus and myself.
So, this Advent, I changed things up! I made the decision not to repeat the past. And I did four specific things to keep priorities in order and make Advent what it is truly meant to be: a time of waiting and watching for the Messiah to come.
- I committed to a weekly Holy Hour as a way of setting a prayerful tone for Advent. I imagined myself like the shepherds and wise men, coming to adore the Baby Jesus. I took time to reflect on scriptural messages of waiting and watching that I heard at Mass. And I practiced being still and knowing I was waiting and watching in Jesus’ presence, before the Blessed Sacrament.
- To keep me focused, I prayed my way through two Advent journals: Rooted in Hope by Take Up and Read and In the Beginning by Blessed Is She. They prompted me to open my Bible and pray with the Scriptures. They encouraged me to apply God’s Word to my daily life.
- Thanks to the planning pages in Rooted in Hope, I made lists … and followed them. I didn’t think I’d like this aspect of the journal; I assumed I’d just skip over it. But I gave these pages a try and actually loved them! I used these pages to make my to-do lists and map out my weeks. I often did my planning at the end of my prayer time, and I believe that by inviting the Lord into my work, He gave me the grace to prioritize and stick to my tasks.
- I logged out of social media. How much time I spend online is always something that nags at me. In many ways, I hate it, and in other ways, it feels like a necessity. Advent seemed like the perfect time to take a break, and I think it helped me stay focused on my prayer and my priorities.
As Advent began, the image of an empty manger kept coming to mind. Each time I prayed, I saw the manger. But with each week that passed, the image changed, and I slowly started to see it filling up with hay. By the time Christmas arrived, the manger was full of fresh, soft hay, and I realized that it represented my prepared heart. I was ready to welcome Baby Jesus. I had made room for Him to rest His sweet head.
Now that the new year has begun, how can I carry the lessons I learned this Advent into the season of Ordinary Time?
Ordinary Time comes from the Latin ordinalis, which means “showing order.” In many ways, that is what I was already doing during Advent—showing order to my Advent days by prioritizing prayer and focusing my time on what mattered most. My to-do list might change in the new year, but the importance of showing order really won’t. So, while I have not made specific resolutions for the new year, here are four things I can do to “press on” with what I started this Advent (Philippians 3:14):
- Stay committed to my weekly Holy Hour.
- Read the Magnificat to continue praying with Scripture and applying it to my daily life.
- Use my new Blessed Is She planner to organize my to-do lists and map out my weeks. This planner is rooted in prayer and the Catholic liturgical life, so it is a lovely tool that merges the prayerful and the practical.
- Limit social media and continue to discern my place online.
In many ways, life is like one long Advent. We are, after all, waiting and watching for Jesus to come again, at the end of time, and we “know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13). As I begin this new calendar year and this new liturgical season, I pray that I can maintain the Advent themes of waiting and watching by showing order to my ordinary days.
Copyright 2018 Sarah Damm