I leave work in half an hour and I won’t be back for a week. (Thank you, Archbishop Carlson, for giving us curia employees the week off!) This also means Christmas Day is a mere three days away and we’ll soon light that final candle in the Advent wreath. Being the self-deprecating person that I often am, I have been wondering both internally and out loud the past few days if I’ve “failed” at Advent.
Advent is a time when we’re supposed to slow down. Clear out the clutter of the past year and prepare room in our hearts for the coming Christ child.
In October I ordered this Advent devotional. In October! I was so proud of myself for how ahead-of-the-game I was–ready for Advent a whole two months prior. I was going to sit down and read that thing, sipping my tea, meditating and praying and meditating and praying.
I got through maybe four or five days of it before it found a permanent place on the shelf. I either lost patience with the lack of theological depth, the monotonous “reflection questions” or both. #AdventFail
Weeks ago when Advent began I decided I would be more patient with everyone–myself and those around me. But there were many times when I said something I wished hadn’t or became unnecessarily hard on myself for something small and inconsequential. #AdventFail
After my flub with the Advent devotional, I told myself I’d do the Mass readings every day. When that didn’t work, I tried to make it to at least a few minutes of Adoration each week leading up to Christmas. I made it a few times, but not as much as I’d wanted to. #AdventFail
Reading other blogs and social media posts, I think a lot of us had plans to be prayerful, meditative, more patient, less distracted, and more focused this Advent that perhaps didn’t pan out. It’s super easy to get caught up in the flurry of activity that the secular world seems to throw at us without fail this time of year.
One thing I did do, though, was go to Confession with my favorite priest and spiritual director. The amazing thing about spiritual direction is that I will start on one topic, and the Holy Spirit will guide the conversation to shed light on an area of life that I didn’t even know was shrouded in darkness or confusion or frustration.
I was frustrated that I wasn’t getting more “things” done during the day, and especially during Advent: “I beat myself up, Father, when I don’t wake up earlier than I usually do, because if I woke up earlier, then I could get more stuff done.”
And he replied with something that really put my Advent into perspective: “It’s not about how much ‘stuff’ you get done every day; it’s about doing what God has called you to do during the day.”
I was beating myself up because the devotional was on left on the shelf, the Advent candles remained unlit for days, Adoration was going on without me in the chapel, and because there were so many other devotions I wanted to participate in, so many other things to get done; but it just seemed like I couldn’t get to it all.
And looking at it in light of what this holy priest told me, that was totally okay.
Looking back on the last few weeks, I think I gained more spiritually from being where God wanted me to be–like being present to my very sick grandmother while she was in the hospital, pausing to ask my husband about his day and really listening, or helping out a stressed friend–than reading a devotional book anyway.
Maybe you weren’t able to light your Advent wreath consistently because you were chasing after your little ones (or older kids!) and making sure they were fed, clothed, and happy. Or perhaps you didn’t have time to read the Mass readings because a loved one just needed someone to listen to their heart.
Of course we could all manage our time better. But I don’t think its a mere excuse to say that our daily obligations often get in the way of how pious and devout we’d like to be. Living out our daily obligations and our vocation–listening to loved ones, caring for our sick or lonely family members, or just being present–can be just as meditative and prayerful and holy as reading a devotional or lighting an Advent wreath, if we are doing what God is asking us to do each day and if we offer these acts to God as a prayer.
So if your Advent wasn’t as textbook perfect as you hoped it would be, it’s really okay–you didn’t “fail” at Advent. You only fail if you don’t try.
I hope you have a very blessed and Merry Christmas! Adeste Fideles!