December 9, 2015 // Uncategorized

The best preparation

Advent preparation didn’t start out the way I had hoped.

I thought I had done all the right things. I had cleaned our house, readying it for the correct liturgical decorations. I looked up some Scripture readings. I planned to take out some book favorites of the season for the kids. I pulled out our Advent wreath several days before the first Sunday and had purchased four brand new Advent candles a full week ahead of time. I put those candles in a safe place so I’d be ready to light them with the family on that first Sunday. But it turned out that it was too safe a place because when the first Sunday rolled around, those candles were nowhere to be found.

What’s more, I had been so confident that I didn’t even look for the candles until dinner was almost ready to be served. Could they be in the cabinet with the decorative, scented candles? No. On top of the fridge? Not there either. How about my room? The laundry area? The junk drawer? No, no, no, and not a good dozen other places either. My girls and I frantically searched the house, top to bottom, but to no avail. My one daughter works at a Christian bookstore but by that last minute that store was plum out of Advent candles too, with a rush on them — of course — just the day before.

Continuing the trend, I also couldn’t locate a few of the choice seasonal books I had carefully set aside (and had not looked for until just before dinner) either. It seems I had misplaced them, you see, probably while I was cleaning the basement in preparation for the season. I suspected that the books were in the newly cleaned toy room, probably in the wrong Tupperware container. By this point I was out of time and couldn’t search container by container. Dinner was ready, no late.


And so, that first Sunday of Advent, having read no books about Advent with my children, my family gathered for dinner. The plain pine Advent wreath graced our table untraditionally, with nothing but a large, green, balsam-scented candle smack in the middle of the wreath, advertising my ineptitude. At least it smelled good.

By now you too may have experienced a bit of frustration and more than a frazzled moment or two this Advent season. If you haven’t you’re lucky. It’s hard trying to focus on the spiritual dimension of Advent with your family, while trying to accomplish the practical aspect of planning a memorable and jolly Christmas celebration and still manage the day-to-day duties and possibly deal with bad weather to boot. (Pressure anyone?)

Perhaps you’ve not made it to Confession yet. Or maybe you’d planned on Scripture reading or a special rosary recitation each night with the family, only to have the effort thwarted by a late running sports practice for one of the kids, or an unexpected travel for work, or a dreaded case of pre-Christmas flu going around (probably because you are run down trying to get everything done perfectly). You’re stressed. You’re worried. You feel like you’re failing.


Breathe. Focus. It’s going to be okay.

There’s still time to get to Confession. Is the Nativity set up? Build your thoughts around that. Focus on praying the rosary or doing the Scripture reading just for tonight. Now is what matters. Today. This moment. Forget what you have not done and direct your efforts to what you can now. And if someone in your family has gotten sick this Advent season, simply patiently tend to him, as though it were the most important thing in the world. Because it is.

For the remainder of Advent, remember the words of Thoreau: “Simplify, simplify, simplify.”

The world will not stop if you don’t attend every gathering to which you are invited. Nothing bad will happen if you change your Christmas Eve menu to something easier to cook to free up your time with loved ones. Gift certificates are just fine to give as presents, especially if it means your time is now freed up to read to a little one who is looking up at you, holding a book. Your neighbors will live if you don’t bring personalized holiday baskets to them, and your family will benefit from taking that time to pray the rosary for them and others instead.

Peace. Calm. Joy. Still your heart and prepare.

So your Advent isn’t perfect. Join the club. In fact, the Holy Family’s time of preparation wasn’t perfect either. The first Christmas was not, by man’s terms, perfectly and grandly orchestrated by any means. Not only did Mary and Joseph experience discomfort and likely stress at having to travel a long way to a strange land to fulfill a duty, but they also had to ‘go with the flow’ in terms of their sleeping accommodations. We may not be getting enough sleep this time of year, but at least we don’t have to lay our heads down on hay in a stable in a foreign land. Or have a baby in it. Or flee in the middle of the night because a hysterical, jealous king is after our child and is seeking to kill him.

So gently quiet the cacophony in your heart. Let go of the imperfections that trouble you. Take your children to Confession. And once in the church, linger in the dark and quiet, your eyes raised humbly to the altar and say simply, “Come. Come, Lord Jesus” He will listen and answer. He is all we need. And this realization is the best preparation — really the only preparation we need.


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