The cycle of Advent is upon us, and it can feel overwhelming to say the least. Our Children's Catechist, Brandi, and I were agreeing that getting kids into Lent is much easier, but supporting a spirit of reflection and waiting, before Christmas, is more difficult. It can feel like we are constantly saying no, receiving disappointment and feeling frustrated.
How can we harness the natural desire kids have to hurry up and get to the fun part? First, remember, Genesis 2:17, God gives a directive about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: you shall not eat of it…. However, in Genesis 3:3, Eve adds to His directive by saying, “You shall not eat of the fruits of the tree that is in the midst of the garden neither shall you touch it…” Can you feel the leaning towards a desire to believe you have been told to do something hard, and feel entitled to being overwhelmed? Remember, anything burdensome is not from God, but from the world. You do NOT have to do Advent right to earn Christmas. We are learning to abide in everything, and in doing so, experience the healing of His anointing, which does the hard work for us. 1 John 2:27
We’ve tried many Advent traditions over the years and will likely adjust as our kids age, but the one thing that has worked for us each year is to start with a posture rather than a list of to-do’s. For our family, we let the idea of “Let every heart prepare Him room” be our guide that sets the tone and focus of the season as we slowly move towards Christmas. From that posture have come the following:
Preparing room in our home
Our main living spaces particularly get a decluttering and clean to make space for decorations, new presents, festive food and guests. This takes as long as it takes, which causes us to slowly step into the season visually and spatially. (Bonus: this also means we can ignore the New Year’s clean out urge and enjoy all 12 days of Christmas because we already did some of it in Advent (the Church’s new year!))
Preparing room in our day
Our regularly scheduled programming (books, devotions, podcasts, movies/tv, music) takes a break while we replace them with more seasonally themed content. While it varies year to year, some things we have enjoyed: daily Old Testament readings (Jesus Storybook bible has a reading plan on their website along with coloring pages/ornaments), We Wonder and God’s Big Story podcast, reading aloud books like A Christmas Carol or The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, filling our home with Christmas books from the library (Readaloud Revival has a great recommended booklist for this!), daily devotional books or daily poetry for the adults, and nightly examen prayer (especially nice with a cup of something steamy).
Preparing room for others
As we look at the calendar, we ask how we can invite others into our home and holiday traditions, particularly those who are alone or far from family this time of year. We also look for opportunities to bless others with meals, treats, caroling and donated items.
Saint Feast Days!
I love baking and trying new recipes from around the world, and this is a great time to do that! But beyond baking, attending mass, reading stories about these holy heroes and learning how they are celebrated around the world reminds us of Christ’s love for the whole Church. Little Way Chapel (on Instagram or internet) is a favorite resource.
(HT: Molly Fogleman)
How about getting the tree early, instead of late, when you are concerned you may not get one? Then, put nothing on it, except a Jesse tree ornament; there are assigned readings that lead your family through the Old Testament prophecies about Christ and, by the end of the month, you are squarely into the Holy Nativity. My kids love the tree, starting out barren and empty, slowly filling up. We have lights on the tree, but we do not turn them on until Dec. 24! Thus, the kids have a physical activity that harnesses their desire to see something happen (a beautiful tree lit up and full of ornaments in celebration), without the burden of being told, “no, it is not time to get a tree.”
There is certainly nothing wrong with having a traditional Jesse tree, which is closer to a branch, smaller. Or not having a tree at all and simply doing the readings each day in expectation of Christ. However, if you enjoy having some type of decorations in Advent, here’s an idea.
Most are familiar with the practice of having the Wise Men travel slowly to the Nativity set in their home; however, you can also have Joseph and Mary slowly travel through your home towards the Nativity scene. Kids love trying to find them. Where are they today? Here, again, the expectation and wonder are harnessed without a burden.
I love podcasts, and this one will not disappoint. We turn this one on in the car, usually, to bring some wonder into our more mundane activities such as traveling to lessons or school.
If you have not tried Midday Prayer, I highly encourage it. There are two versions in our Book of Common Prayer 2019, and both are very succinct. Think of it as an invitation to check in with your friend to say, “hello.” Kids can take turns leading the entire section of prayers and short readings, or you can have them take turns on each section. Giving kids some responsibility in their own worship has been very rewarding in our home.
Pray about the following practice and let the Holy Ghost lead you to invite kids into a personal place of prayer in their home or room. Do they have a somewhat empty shelf or drawer? Help them make this a sacred space with any items that spur their attention to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. It can be a cross, a small icon, a drawing, a Bible, or, well, the list goes on and on. Asking kids what draws their attention to Him is a beautiful way to get to know them as they are formed by God in intimate ways you, as a parent, will not know about unless you start to observe and ask. Adding a 5-10 minute period of personal prayer for your child in their sacred space is also an excellent way to encourage this relationship. So, set it up, step out, and keep an eye on the clock. They may ask to be done early the first few days, but keep up the habit for a few weeks and keep encouraging them to ask and listen to God. It takes time. He works in His time, not ours. Kids are much more capable of interacting with Him than we realize and when we are not in the room (and in His way at times), He is much more able to work within them; kids will naturally meet the expectations of the adults they are living with, but if you are willing to step out of the way for a short period, miraculous conversations occur between Him and your child.