"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! ...
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom 11: 33-36).
Sunday, December 14, 2014
5 Ways to Find Peace and Joy this Advent and Christmas (Amid Unrealistic Expectations)
In the hustle and bustle of December, our lives (and our Advent) can become filled with a busyness that is often fueled by unrealistic expectations. We can become consumed with the desire to find or make perfect gifts for each of our loved ones. Sometimes we feel pressured to purchase gifts that we can’t afford. Many times, our hearts and minds are so filled with trying to provide a perfect Christmas for our families that the season of Advent — a time meant to be filled with prayerful quiet and joyful anticipation of Christ’s birth — has been completely derailed and lost…
Lost in to-do lists, things-to-clean lists, and cookies-and-treats-to-make lists, presents-to-buy-or-make lists, people-to-visit lists… and a gourmet Christmas feast to pull together list.
Sometimes we recognize all too late, after our children are grown and gone, just how fast the times goes by. And then, how we wish we would have spent more time relaxing, enjoying, and just being together … rather than being consumed in planning, doing, and fretting over trying to attain some false ideal of perfection. We often recognize too late how we missed the time we had with our children because our minds were filled with lists of “ways we can be loving” that we would get to in a minute … 10 minutes … or tonight … or tomorrow … or next week …
But rarely were our minds quiet enough, or still or at peace enough, to be loving in the only moment we truly have… the present.
In our pursuit of perfection, our joy, peace and the quiet inside our soul is crowded out with expectations, frustrations and feelings of guilt when we can never measure up to our desires. And if we’re not careful, we can miss living our lives because we become so focused on our plan that we continue to miss the moment in front of us –the one we are living now – and the only moment possible to truly love. For moments in the past can never be relived, and moments in the future are so elusive that they are always just one more moment away …
Perhaps, at this moment, we can take the time to pray and ask ourselves if we experience this.
Are we caught up in the pursuit of providing the picture-perfect Christmas – complete with a loving, beautifully dressed family in a gorgeous home with a sumptuous feast? Are we caught up in trying to be the perfect parent, so much so that we can never relax and enjoy our kids? Are we focusing so much on tasks to be done, that we are missing the people whom we are doing all these things for?
Are we missing our idea of a perfect Christmas so much that we can’t be grateful for the Advent and Christmas God He is giving us now? Are we so focused on the lists, that we forget the Reason, the Person of Christ, whom we celebrate?
While our desires may be beautiful, none of these “things” have been promised to us. Jesus doesn’t even promise us a happy family. If you are struggling with this, I write more about it here.
While caught up in our busyness, and our idea of how Christmas is supposed to be, we can lose sight of what it actually was! We forget about the poverty the Holy Family faced that first Christmas night — perhaps this is because we envision it to have been like the beautiful masterpieces that depict the Nativity.
Detail of Adoration of the Shepherds. Antonio Balestra.
Yet, instead of a warm home and the beautiful cradle that Joseph must have built for Jesus, Joseph and Mary had only a stable and a manger for their newborn Son. In reality, this stable or cave was probably stinky, filthy, and cold.
And instead of being surrounded by loved ones, not one person in Bethlehem recognized or made room in their hearts or homes for the Messiah, Whom they had prayed and longed for for centuries! (Our Lord often comes to us in ways we fail to see – think of your toddler tearing up something you had been working on for weeks. Do we recognize Christ in the least of these?)
It wasn’t the religious who came to adore their God , but the poor and homeless shepherds who were deemed outcasts and unworthy to worship at the Temple, who heard the angels’ chorus and worshiped the newborn King of Kings. (The Magi came later.)
Yet, in the midst of these cold, miserable, and harsh conditions, the most incredible and unfathomable Gift was given to us! Our God and King, the creator of the earth and moon and stars — of all that is seen and unseen — became flesh and dwelt among us! Who can ever fathom the extent of His Love for us – a Love that would go to such extremes to “become man in order to make us gods?” (St. Ambrose).
Is there any greater gift that we could have on Christmas than Jesus? Is all the pressure we place on ourselves really necessary? Does it add to or detract from our recognizing and worshipping Jesus’ birth and His Presence that is still was us today — for He is still Emmanuel.
If you are someone who struggles with this, (like me), here are some ideas for finding balance, peace and joy in these holy days:
1. Make a morning offering.
Find time for at least 10 minutes of adoration, Scripture reading, solitude and listening to God. Begin your day in God, with His Word in your mind and in your heart.
2. Make short acts of adoration, thanksgiving and praise throughout the day.
Call to mind the first Christmas when false expectations and meaningless busyness try to steal away your moments. If we can go to Mass and adoration all the better, but if we can’t we can spiritually unite ourselves and receive spiritual communions throughout the day by offering up prayers of desire and praise.
3. Go to confession.
God’s Mercy, grace and strength is amazing and can help rid these tendencies in us.
4. Ask Mary and Joseph for help…
…to know and love the Father’s will, and His Son, Jesus, as they did. Recognizing God in His hiddenness — in our family members and in our trials – while keeping and treasuring all these things in our hearts.
5. Be happy!
A spiritual director once told me the greatest gift we can give our children is for us to be happy! Ask the Holy Spirit’s help to choose to enjoy, love, and treasure those God has given you to love, in each moment He has given you to live! We can do this by being mindful of the great and unfathomable love of Jesus and all the gifts we have been given.
Finally, here is a beautiful video that illustrates when we put these ways into practice: if we choose to put God first, to adore Him, to look for Him in the most unlikely places, and to enjoy the moment we’ve been given and the people God puts in our path, God can work astoundng miracles!
Mary and Joseph, help us to live this time of Advent and Christmas in love, peace and joy regardless of our circumstances, busyness and imperfections. We ask you to help us let go of what is unnecessary, and to trust and rejoice in God, our Savior as you did, even when facing severe hardships. Mary and Joseph, pray for us and hold each one of us and our loved ones close to you. Guide us and help us to welcome your Son as you welcomed Him — not in a perfect home, but in love, worship and awe, making room for him in our hearts and in the busyness of our lives.