Eight strategies for a Calm, Fruitful Advent

(From the archives, but still relevant today, as we enter into the preparatory time of Advent. Strive as you might to keep Christmas until Christmas. After all, it’s that for which we are preparing. Here’s wishing a blessed and grace-filled one to all our readers! Editor)

Most of us are distracted by so many things. Busyness is a stress-inducing condition of daily life. We rush from one place to another and try to juggle one too many commitments. With less than one month left before Christmas, our lives are going to be even more hectic. We are in danger of not giving ourselves the time to be still, to breathe, to be.

When our lives are frenetic, we don’t pay attention to important matters including our time of preparation for Jesus’ birth. In Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Pope Benedict XVI teaches us that “man is a relational being. And if his first fundamental relationship is disturbed—his relationship with God—then nothing else can be truly in order.” During the past month, my life has been busier than usual and I know that my relationship with God has been disturbed. Do you feel the same way? As we enter into the Advent season, I’m sharing some strategies that will hopefully put the focus back on our relationship with God.

  1. Display the Advent wreath. At the beginning of Advent, I clear everything off the living room coffee table, give it a good cleaning, and set up the Advent wreath. Eliminating the clutter on our table reminds me to get rid of the clutter in my life. Our Advent wreath reminds my family to concentrate on the state of our minds and hearts as we await the birth of Jesus.
  2. Learn to say no. During this month of Advent there will be many activities that will zap our energy, tire us mentally, and pull us in too many directions. Feeling frazzled takes our attention away from God and centres it on ourselves.
  3. Don’t shop ’til you drop. Sometimes people feel trapped into over-buying and over-spending because that is the tradition in their family or circle of friends. Certain traditions are meant to be broken and this is one of them. Even though we have a very large extended family, my husband and I only give presents to our eight children and a few close friends. Spending and buying too much stuff misdirects our time and mind to trivial matters while pushing out what is essential: re-aligning our relationship with God.
  4. Look after your body. Our mind, body, and soul are interconnected. When we don’t look after our body, the other parts suffer. We feel sluggish, we get sick, and we don’t have the energy to pray and focus on God.
  5. Enjoy some spiritual reading. Last Christmas, my older children gave me Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. I am reading it again because “this is a story of longing and seeking. … It is a story of sacrifice and trusting completely in the wisdom of God.” Pope Benedict XVI’s wonderful work is a balm for restless hearts that long for God.
  6. Pray constantly. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “the desire for God is written in the human heart because man is created by God and for God.” St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us that prayer is “an expression of man’s desire for God.” Advent is the time for prayerful silence so we can listen to the desire of our heart. In the evening, gather the family around the Advent wreath for special Advent prayers.
  7. Think of others. As a registered nurse, I know that the seasons of Advent and Christmas can be very difficult for people who are alone, ill, and forgotten. Seek out your neighbours who are struggling and for whom this time of year only brings pain and sorrow. Give your time as well as your resources.
  8. Be joyful. To be joyful is to be thankful, to see everything as grace, to have faith that everything is a gift from God who became Man so that He could take upon Himself the sin of the world.

Source: Ratzinger, J. Pope Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. New York: Crown Publishing, 2012.

Picture: Advent wreath: Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons Attribution/share-alike license.