Don't let the material preparations shadow the sacredness of the season.
Advent has always been a favorite time of year for me — the waiting, the anticipation, the darkness yearning for light. But if I’m not careful, especially as a mother, it is too easy to let the material preparations of the holidays shadow the sacredness of the season.
In the early years of my marriage, I remember feeling at Christmas that I had missed out — I was so busy at work, and busy just doing life, that I hadn’t prepared my heart beyond weekly Mass and a few extra prayers here and there. After those years of feeling a spiritual loss rather than joy at Christmas, I became determined to find a way to really train and teach my heart to be open and docile to the coming of Christ during the season — to really make Advent a time of spiritual journey and preparation.
In Latin, the word Advent means “to come to.” We come to Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of Christ at the first Christmas, we welcome him into our hearts in a more profound way here and now, and we are on the journey to welcoming him at the end of all time. If we let it, Advent can become a time of intense encounter with God as we condition our hearts to be open to his coming in all forms.
One of the best ways I’ve been able to journey and experience this profound time of preparation is through consistent and deliberate daily prayer. This prayer can be simple or in depth, but the point is daily living contact with God.
Practically, here are three things I’ve found to help me focus my prayers, and that are easy to implement each and every day of Advent. They are simple, but when prayed with love, I’ve found they help make my heart open to grace. This way when Christmas comes, my heart is in a place of receptiveness and celebration — not confusion as to how the season of Advent flew by so quickly.
1. Begin each morning with an act of trust
A consecration prayer is simply a form of prayer in which you give your day to the hands of God, entrusting all that you are to his care. It could be as simple as saying, “I am yours and everything I have is yours.” During Advent, my favorite consecration prayer is to Mary. At the first coming of Christ, it was Mary that carried Jesus in her womb to Bethlehem so God’s promise could be fulfilled. When doing a Marian consecration prayer, I feel like it is a way of entrusting ourselves to Mary and having her carry us to Bethlehem in her heart. I like to pray this traditional and easy to memorize consecration prayer to Mary each morning.
2. Start a nightly family tradition
My kids love doing a daily scripture reading during Advent, and I love that it helps teach them the story of salvation. Our family makes a Jesse tree, and we read our scripture after dinnertime and let the kids hang an ornament on the tree. I love that this practice can be either simple or elaborate and gives us flexibility as our kids get older.
3. Embrace the stillness (and not your phone)
I hate to admit it, but I get seriously attached to my phone most nights. It’s my bit of quiet time to unwind once the kids are in bed and the day is done. But the greatest graces of Advent I’ve ever experienced are when I take a fast from my phone for a short time at the end of the day and devote that time to focused prayer. Advent has a certain stillness, as we anticipate the joy to come, that can be easy to miss with the busyness of the season. To take advantage of that stillness, I’ll shut off devices and set a timer for just five minutes of silent prayer at the end of the day. During this time, I might call to mind God’s presence and simply pray “Come into my heart.” After a minute or so, I try reflecting on the parts of my heart needing the light of Christ. I then ask God to remove the barriers keeping me from his love. The last few minutes I just like to sit and soak up his grace and be silent in his presence.
These three things have been so easy to do and have transformed how I prepare my heart for Christmas. Some years, I’m able to do more, and other years less. But the result has been the same — I’m able to slow down and wait in the hopeful silence of Advent.