Celebrating Advent

December 21, 2007 | 12 comments

As I mentioned, at the beginning of this month I found myself scrambling to celebrate Advent…which was especially challenging since I had no idea what Advent was (luckily my kind readers helped me out). I had to turn the page over on my already huge to-do list to now add “Get Advent wreath!”, then after thinking for a moment, “Figure out what Advent wreath is for” and, after more thought, “Figure out what Advent is for.”

Though I sincerely wanted to know more about this season, I felt burdened by having more to do. As if the Christmas season wasn’t already busy enough, if I were to observe Advent it would mean doing even more! So I prayed. I prayed a prayer of regret, expressing remorse that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to properly observe this season, asking God for help, and promising to try to do better next year.

Meanwhile, I had been working on the issue of anger. The topic had seemed to have come out of nowhere — I didn’t think I had a problem with being angry and it was never in my plan to work on it. Yet it kept coming up. I couldn’t set the issue aside, even though I kind of wanted to. I really felt that God was leading me to work on this right now, though I didn’t know why.

As I’ve chronicled, I came to realize that my anger was almost always the result of being anxious, which was always the result of not trusting God. I began trying hard to never allow myself to indulge in feelings of frustration and anxiety: whether my toddler threw a bad temper tantrum or all the pots and pans came cascading loudly out of the cabinet when I opened it or my neighbor stopped me to tell me a loooong story when I was in a hurry, I would seek peace by remembering that all I had to do was trust God. I worked hard at letting go of my plans, at not fixating on how these inconvenient events were derailing what I “had to” do (according to me).

I trusted that I would get it all done…as long as I accepted “it” as what God wanted me to do instead of what I wanted to do.

Then, this morning, I thought of how two days from now is the last Sunday of Advent, how it’s a shame that I let it slip by. I never did get around to making an Advent wreath with the kids, we didn’t do a Jesse tree or put up a little Christmas countdown calendar. I didn’t even read any of the things I’d earmarked as “good Advent reading.”

But as I’ve gone through my day (day five of a visit from my mother-in-law), I realized that something has changed — something big. I’m not stressed. Sure, I am occasionally tempted to be stressed when I see all the gifts I have to wrap or my mother-in-law shouts from the living room over the blaring television that my three-year-old spilled the Coke she was letting him drink. And I guess I have felt anxious here and there. But, for the most part, it has really worked to just turn to God with all anxiety, to say “I trust that you will work this out” every single time I start feeling stressed. I have made it through this Christmas season in a (mostly) peaceful state.

Last Sunday the priest at a friend’s church talked about Advent as a season of waiting, and that our goal should be to wait well. And as I walked through my choatic house, looking at all the areas that could be more clean, thinking of all the things that didn’t get done — we never did get a Christmas tree up, I forgot to get gifts for a couple of loved-ones, I didn’t make those Christmas cookies, I couldn’t even find time to decorate the house at all — I realized that I am actually at peace with all of this. So many things that I really wanted to do didn’t happen; but the only thing that really matters did happen: I trusted God. I had sort of hoped that God’s plan would involve me miraculously finding the time to make my house look like something out of Martha Stewart Magazine’s Christmas issue, to come across a bunch of extra money to get all those gifts I wanted to get, to take the kids for a portrait with Santa.

But none of that happened.

And I realized that, ironically, it is in the fact that none of these “important” things got done that I observed Advent after all. I put my trust in God, even at the expense of all my big plans. I was patient as I waited for him to show me the path forward, even though it was really tempting to elbow God aside and frantically rush around to “get things done!” I set aside my plans for his, and in the process gave my family the gift of a calm, happy mommy. I waited well.


  1. La gallina

    Hey Jen,

    Don’t worry. Once your oldest hits about 10, he might take care of a lot of decorating for you. My 10-year-old son has put up the majority of lights and decorations, he pulls the dusty Christmas boxes out of storage, he supervises the little ones making Christmas fudge. He wraps the presents for extended family. I don’t know what I’d do without him.

    This is actually the first year we have lights on the outside of the house, thanks to him. You’ve kind of got a full plate at this point with 3 kids 3 and under, and no 10 year old to help out.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  2. Tausign

    These posts are interesting to read because they’re so authentic. Glad to hear that you’re enjoying a fuller sense of advent even if some of the decorations don’t get unboxed. You seem to have received peace and happily spread it around your own home. Peace lights up the home better than any other decoration.

  3. Melanie B

    Jen, it seems to me you definitely understand the meaning of Advent and managed to enter into the spirit of it quite well.

    Advent wreaths and Jesse trees and the like are external aids to help us focus, to help us remember. But their goal is precisely to help us turn to God, to invite God into our hearts and homes. But, like you said, even without an Advent wreath or other external reminder, God helped you to make him the center. It would be a mistake to make these tools into an end in themselves instead of a means to an end.

    One other thing to consider is that an older Catholic tradition is not to put up a tree or decorate until Christmas eve. That how my mom’s family celebrated when she was a kid and our pastor has often said the same of his childhood. (The great side benefit of this practice is that on Christmas eve they’re practically giving away trees.)

    We’re going to go buy our tree tomorrow morning and we’ll trim it with our few ornaments and then I’ll make a batch of cookies. I’ll somehow find time to wrap the couple of small presents I got for Dom and Bella in the next couple of days and sneak them under the tree on Christmas eve along with stockings with a little bit of candy I picked up at Target today. I actually like doing it this way.

    The fact that I got presents and candy at all will be a surprise and I can assure you neither my husband or my daughter will be disappointed at the low-key nature of our celebrations.

  4. Mary Poppins NOT

    Congratulations! This peace is a gift that will serve you well the rest of your days. And la gallina is right. In just a few years, most of the decorating and baking will be done with glee by your children. It rocks!

    May you have a blessed Christmas!

  5. John Seymour

    How do you do this? So many times I read your posts and they speak to me, as if you have observed my life and written about it. Thank you.

    This year we didn’t put up lights, didn’t get a tree, didn’t get the Advent wreath, or any Christmas decorations, out of the attic, and didn’t bake cookies. As chaotic as things at work have been, my kids had a father who didn’t freak out (well, not too much) about stuff around the house. I guess that’s a pretty cool Advent observance by itself.


  6. Mrs Jackie Parkes MJ

    A very humble post! God’s blessings on you & your wonderful blog…

  7. Jennifer F.

    Thank you all for your comments!

  8. Jen

    From one “Jen” to another, I love your blog. And, I especially love this post. I have big issues with anger, and I’m a convert as well (when I was 15…left the Church after that…long story). Thank you for posting this. I’m going to keep this in my head and my heart. You sure have “waited well” and prepared your hearts perhaps better than most. Congrats!

  9. Laurel

    Hi Jen,

    Love your blog! As others have said, I think you’ve entered into Advent just fine…..it really IS all about the waiting, and preparing our hearts for his arrival. Our house is ALWAYS simply decorated…just the tree and the manger…and only the latter is really needed. Presents don’t go out until Christmas Eve after the girls are in bed…the one other tradition I embraced when I converted (thanks to my husband’s grandmother) is to bake a birthday cake for Jesus…we have the same family recipie every Christmas morning.

    Thanks for another really honest and inspiring post! Have a BLESSED Christmas!

  10. Erika S.

    OT- Merry Christmas to you and your family Jen!


  11. Connie's Daughter

    We try to take our cue from the Church regarding Christmas decorating, and we save it until right before Christmas, letting Advent be Advent. And then we treat the entire Christmas octave as special. It’s very counter-cultural! Most of our neighbors didn’t even turn on their Christmas lights last night, but we did, and we’ll have ours on all week. And we’ll play all the joyous Christmas music, having kept to anticipatory Advent music until now. When my kids were little, we found that by keeping Advent relatively quiet, they weren’t bouncing off the walls by Christmas. And the focus could be on Jesus’s birth.

    And so, even though for most people Christmas is over, I wish you a very Merry Christmas! As my kids say, “We’re so glad God gave us a season for celebration!” It only started Dec. 25th!

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