This post begins with a confession of sorts. I am a checklist enthusiast. With each item and chore checked off, comes a corresponding feeling of accomplishment. Not to mention that should I neglect to make a list, I am prone to amble aimlessly as a boat without a rudder. Advent is a particular challenge in that my list is always a work in the making and there never seems to be enough hours in the day to complete each of these necessities. Yet are each of these items REALLY necessary?
One of the most common expressions heard in parish ministry when an innovative thought is floated or an old one reevaluated, is that “We have ALWAYS done it this way!” When in truth, we truly haven’t. This goes for our own individual or family traditions. Advent is a perfect time to consider the things we do that bring us closer to Christ and those that merely busy us. Some of the greatest gifts of grace I have received were those never planned or even conceived. Impromptu conversations that I begrudgingly entered, car mishaps and vacation disasters, delayed or rescheduled appointments..all within God’s purview and grace. Easier perhaps in hindsight..but how do we see this in the moment?
If I may, I offer this as a guide for a receptive heart and renewed perspective…
Time with our Father: Listening. Have we provided quiet time for God to speak to our hearts as we go about our day?
Time spent with the Word: It needn’t be an entire Gospel but simply a short passage that is a seed for later reflection and growth. Can we spare 5-10 minutes?
Meet Christ in your time spent with others: Do something unexpected for someone else, or say yes to an invitation to visit someone who is sick, lonely, or troubled. I can tell you of the blessings in doing so, but the surprise that awaits is far better!
Pray: Petition for help with all of the other things that you would like to complete each day. Ask for direction for those things that you can let go and are unneeded. Don’t be afraid to make a new tradition, or say no to something that has become unfruitful. Sometimes we have to say no to one thing in order to be free to say yes to another!
St. Ignatius describes the process of discernment as “motions of the soul”. In order to decide between competing ‘goods’ (good vs a greater good) we must be prayerful, and attentive to the Spirit. Therefore discernment isn’t a choice between good or bad but a better choice that will bring us into a fuller more intimate relationship with Christ. And because of the persuading case that can usually be made for either choice, this decision may be a challenging and be met with resistance. Yet, again some of the hardest battles fought have brought great spiritual rewards.
With this, I have made a few changes to my own checklist. Items that might be expected but not essential will be left off , trusting that God will give me the courage to explain when needed. Other desired tasks that are preempted by more immediate concerns will indeed wait till another day. There is such peace that comes from putting down or relinquishing a “to do”as an obligation and instead choosing to pick up and carry each as a grace. And never alone..for when we invite God into our busyness, he shares the load.
With Advent Grace,
Reflect: What is on your checklist today? Are you willing to put aside your list to accept His?