Preparing to Prepare

I am nowhere near finished decorating for Christmas. My Christmas shopping has not even started and I know there’s baking to be done in my future but I seem to be thwarted by the lack of prepared unbaked pie shells.

Then there are friends of mine who have their house beautifully decorated by November 1, their presents are already purchased and placed beneath the tree, and their Pinterest boards are teeming with new ideas to keep them occupied in the long pre-Christmas wait.

There are few things that can fill us with as much panic as the feeling of “I’m not prepared!”. Realizing that there’s something we’ve missed, some information we don’t have, looking around the room and wondering if everyone else has a better idea of what’s going on than we do. It’s not a good feeling.

As I approach this Christmas season, our first in a new city, our first not in full-time ministry for 7 years, in a sense I feel unprepared. I’m not cramming my head full of songs for the Christmas Eve service. Not organizing practices, calling others, coordinating schedules. It puts the rhythm of my lead up to Christmas in a very different space.

Now I have a confession to make. I didn’t grow up knowing really anything about Advent. It was not practiced on a congregational scale at my home church. It wasn’t until I started dating my husband that I encountered the idea of celebrating Advent. And I didn’t know much about it. I was a newbie to the rituals of candle lighting, to the intentional focus on different aspects of the Christmas story, of the spiritual preparation leading up to the Christmas season. And I have been in churches since that participate in Advent but not in a liturgical way. It was acknowledge but not particularly the focus of the teaching during communal worship.

So I’ve made a decision. This year, with all the changes and the different structure to my time leading up to Christmas, I’m going to learn what I can about Advent and as a family we’re going to intentionally participate in a new way. I’m reading up on the different traditions (I’m a researcher, it’s how I roll) and getting a feel for what it looks like for us to participate in this set apart and consecrated time together as a family.

I’m preparing to prepare. This notion of preparing and consecrating yourself to a time when you will meet with God resonated with me in my daily reading today. I finished the book of Exodus (an interesting read and happy circumstance in this lead up to Christmas) and what struck me was how Aaron and his sons were preparing themselves to meet with God. Moses and their community facilitated their cleanliness, anointed them, and helped them prepare for this time when they dedicated themselves in service to God. The consecrated themselves and consecrated their surroundings. They prepared to meet with God, expecting great things, expecting the wonder of his presence.

What if I prepared for Advent? Not just in my mind, but in my heart as well? If Advent is a time where I focus on God and the sending of Jesus to Earth, I probably shouldn’t go in cold turkey. The Israelites didn’t. If I’m intentionally seeing Advent as a spiritual time where I hope to learn more about God and hear from him, there are ways I can set my mind and heart purposefully towards this time. I’m going to prepare to prepare. I’m going to practice some of the Spiritual Disciplines to focus my heart and mind (If you’d like to join me and others, click here). I’m going to ask others how they celebrate Advent and what rituals are meaningful to them and their families. And I’m going to participate in some differing liturgy to broaden my concept of worship during this time. It’s exciting. To step outside my set concept of what worship at this time of year means and see what new things God has to teach me about him, myself, and the world around me. I’ll let you know how it goes and please, if there are any special advent traditions you and your family participate in, let me know! I’d love to hear from you.

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A Spiritual Side to the Mommy Wars?

I hate the phrase “mommy wars”. It’s a phrase that’s having its hayday in social media right now, pitting different parenting styles against one another. People making a case for their style of parenting; Stay at home vs. Working parent vs. Part time work and at home, homeschooling vs. public school vs. private school vs. faith based schooling, to vaccinate or not to vaccinate. The debates, which so many of us have seen, get heated and lines are drawn in the sand.

And it’s so easy to fall into. It’s easy to see what we believe we’re doing right and compare that to how others choose to conduct their family life. And why? In a culture where we’re taught to live and let live, where we aren’t allowed to express opinions against others and if we do, others have the right to retaliate, why is parenting and family the last vestige of allowable judgement?

Some might say it has to do with seeing the speck in someone else’s eye and not the plank in our own. True, but if it was just about judgement would it be so prevalent? Would no one be able to resist the urge? Maybe. But I think there’s something more to it.

When I see and feel myself engaging in my head and heart (if not online) in these areas of judgement it’s usually reactionary. I judge because I feel judged. It’s a vicious cycle. When someone posts that article on Social Media that basically slams my parenting choices it hits insecurities that I already feel as a parent. Because I haven’t met anyone who feels like all the decisions they make as a parent are perfect. In each of us there’s a niggling doubt that we’re wrecking our kids, socially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. And that fear can cause us to become hyper vigilint. Not wanting to release control over any aspect of  our family life, we micromanage our emotions and obsess over our decisions big and small.

And there’s the other side of the coin. When someone devalues our hard work and life choices it can make us feel like some core values that we hold dear are worthless. Because, let’s face it, so many of us feel a lack of encouragement in our lives. As we stay that extra hour at work to do our job well and then are told we’re a bad parent because of it, who wins? As you wipe up that potty accident, pull gum out of hair, and try to engage your kids and are told that you need to be more ambitious, who wins?

Because I see in my life that so much of my defensiveness and judgement of other people comes out of insecurity and feeling invisible. In talking with other moms, stay at home and working outside the home, I hear over and over that they feel unseen and unappreciated. That it’s not the big decisions but the little everyday niggling doubts that are wearing them down. Everyone needs to feel valued, both by God and by others around them.

God is so explicit in how he values us. His love for us is abundant in Scripture and the blessings we see around us. And he sees the little things. “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:4. This speaks about tithing but I believe that this holds true in other things in life. When I’m in that place of feeling unappreciated this verse rings through my head. And it’s comforting. Because even when I feel invisible in my world, God sees me, and sees my heart and my perseverance and my determination to do what I can the best way I can.

But God also tells us to encourage one another. Because being seen, noticed for the things that we are doing helps us bear the loads we carry. So, we should say the helpful and hopeful things that we think but may be too embarrassed to say. Let people know that we see them. Smile, don’t frown at the person struggling at the grocery store. Help when we can and speak words of hope and care.

And if we don’t know the person, maybe the best thing we can do is not engage in the emotional wars that rage around us. Because “Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, but the one who has understanding holds their tongue.” Proverbs 11:12. Ouch. Because I know that when I’m sitting and stewing over another person I’m lacking in understanding. I’m not party to their situation so can’t engage with understanding and compassion. And maybe there’s something in me that I need to examine, seeking God for understanding about why I’m defensive and on the offensive. That the trigger is internal and when I understand myself better, I am better able to understand others.