By saying no, you are saying "yes" to simplifying and refocusing your priorities.
A few years ago I overheard my youngest son whispering to a friend who was visiting for a playdate. Standing in the middle of the living room, surrounded by Rubbermaid containers brimming with ornaments, sighing and mumbling under my breath as I wrestled a strand of twinkle lights around an unruly swag of garland, I heard Rowan say, “My mom doesn’t like Christmas.” I still remember the look on his friend’s face, a mix of horror and bewilderment. I knew what he was thinking: “What kind of mother doesn’t like Christmas?”
Advent, which is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming,” is traditionally a time of preparation. The four-week period leading up to December 25 is intended as a period of contemplation and reflection, a time in which we anticipate the arrival of the Messiah. We look back in remembrance at the birth of Jesus 2,000 years ago, and we look ahead in eager anticipation of his Second Coming. In Church history, Advent was considered a quiet time — an opportunity to “treasure in our hearts,” the coming of our Savior in human incarnation.
Somehow, though, we have lost the true meaning of Advent. Amid our frantic physical preparations for Christmas — the decorating, the shopping, the socializing — we’ve lost the time and space to spiritually prepare our hearts. We’ve lost adventus — the anticipation of the future arrival of Jesus — and succumbed instead to the busyness, obligations, and responsibilities of the present. We’ve replaced Advent with more of everything but Jesus.
The year I overheard my son tell his friend that I didn’t like Christmas was the year I dramatically changed my approach and attitude. I took stock of what my life looked like during the holidays and discovered that my calendar was too packed with social activities and my shopping and gift-giving were out of control. I spent too much money and drove myself to the point of exhaustion with baking, decorating, socializing, gift wrapping, and card writing. So distracted was I by the preparations and so-called festivities, I was missing the point of Advent and Christmas entirely. My home was prepared, but my heart certainly wasn’t.
So I changed the way I prepared for Christmas. I downsized. I simplified. And most of all, I said no more often. Every year since then, the four weeks leading up to December 25 have been much less frenetic. I still participate in the joys and excitement of the holidays, but I don’t overdo it. I leave more margin in my life, more space to reflect and contemplate. I allow myself to anticipate the coming of Jesus.
If you feel like your Advent is more about the coming of more stuff and more commitments instead of about the coming of Jesus, here are three easy ways to simplify and refocus your priorities.
1. Say “no” to overcommitting
You needn’t wipe your calendar clean of all social activities, but do pick an invitation or two from the pile and say no to the rest. Free up a Friday night to spend with your family in front of the fireplace, cups of hot cocoa in your hands, a board game on the coffee table. Give yourself the space to connect meaningfully with the people you love. Or a Saturday afternoon gazing out the window at the wintry landscape. Give yourself the time, space, and quiet to give thanks to the Savior who came to save you.
2. Say “no” to perfectionism
Maybe this means forgoing Christmas cards or the annual holiday newsletter. Or tossing the Pottery Barn catalogue into the recycle bin and decorating the mantel the same way for 12 seasons straight. For me, saying no to perfectionism means my gifts won’t look like Martha Stewart wrapped them. I won’t have a brand-new light-up Christmas tree displayed on my front lawn because I want to save the money and the time spent schlepping to Hobby Lobby yet one more time. And I’ll give my kids’ teachers gift cards instead of six different varieties of homemade Christmas cookies, wrapped in shiny cellophane and tied with a shimmering bow. For me, saying no to perfectionism leads to a simpler, more restful Advent.
3. Say “no” to excessive spending
Less time spent shopping the crowded malls and fussing over fancy gifts means more time spent quietly at home. Every year I try to finish my Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving. I also don’t buy multiple gifts for each person on my list like I used to do. Even better, I try to give presence over presents. For example, instead of exchanging gifts, a friend and I might plan a special dinner out at a favorite restaurant in January, when the holiday hustle is passed.
We can be easily wooed by the gifts this season offers, because truthfully, most of the opportunities that come our way are things we love to do or experiences our families would enjoy. But there can be too much of a good thing. Saying no to a few things during the four weeks of Advent will allow you ample opportunity to prepare both your home and your heart for Christmas.