What I Learned from Failing at Advent (Again)

woods-christmas-trees-snow-featured-w740x493My standard response, whenever anyone asks how my Advent is going, is “Well, I’m failing.” I don’t say it as a matter of course or as a habit, but because it’s usually true.

This year was no different. In fact, if anything, this year was the worst since I’ve been Catholic and trying to actually observe Advent.

The weeks leading up to Christmas were a blur of workworkwork, family obligations, extracurriculars, juggling other people, and internal drama. There was no time. None. Zero. Zilch.

I felt like I was living in a whirlwind, and when I paused, on Christmas Day, to reflect just what I should have, could have, would have done differently, I came up short. Either EVERYTHING would have to be different in my life or…I was just in a set of circumstances that demanded waders and a super suit.

So, given that I’m something of an expert at failing Advent (over a decade of experience and four kids later), I thought I’d share what this Year of Advent Failure taught me.

Lesson #1: There are worse things than failure.

I’m a perfectionist, a control freak, a high achiever. As such, I set my sights on nothing less than Total Advent Domination™. I don’t just want to do Advent right, I want to do it ALL.

If you’re thinking I set myself up for failure, you’re right.

Over the years, I’ve learned and adapted my approach. But I would have never done this (and made Advent a more approachable season) unless I had failed. I would have never thought to cut things out or adjust halfway through or even take a bare minimum viewpoint if I had achieved all of my goals.

Goals are good. Everyone says so. It’s just that sometimes, so is a reality check.

For me, Advent is a reality check.

It’s not so different than the time leading up to the birth of a child, come to think of it. I’m always trying to cram so much into those last four weeks before the baby shows up in all his or her life-altering beauty. The birth of my last baby, in fact, came as a result of a car accident and was unexpected times one hundred.

You’d think I would learn…

And yet, the failure of Advent is almost a gift. It’s almost a reminder that a lack of failure would mean a lack of trying. Absence of failure, for me, would mean no plans at all, no attempts at gaining more holiness, no trying to mosey closer to Bethlehem and the Baby whose fault it is that we have Advent in the first place.

Lesson #2: There’s always next year.

The only time I find this lesson helpful is after I have at least an arm’s length between me and the Advent failure I’m considering.

Because I don’t want to fail. Ever.

Whatever wisdom I may spout off, however helpful I may be to others, the truth is this: I want to be able to do that which I probably cannot (and should not) do. My response to being told no is the mental equivalent of a three-year-old throwing herself on the floor kicking and flailing and screaming.

But here’s the beauty of our faith: Advent comes every year. Every. Single. Year.

We can look ten years in the future and there! Advent! Just waiting for me!

Unlike the babies who don’t keep, this Baby does keep. We get to prepare for Him again. And again. And again.

When I look back over the years of failure and past my abysmal attitude about how things have gone, I see that the failures I have now are different than the failures I had ten years ago. Just as I see my kids growing, I can see myself growing…and there’s hope that this will continue.

So next year, as I prepare to prepare, chances are that I’ll achieve a different level of failure. And by God’s grace, may that failure lead me closer to where I need to be.

Lesson #3: Christmas comes anyway.

That’s the thing about babies, isn’t it? They come anyway. Whether you’re ready or not.

The crib may not be set up, the house may not be clean, the carseat may not even be purchased. But when that baby is ready, that baby is going to come.

Christmas is set…for forever. December 25. Whether I’m ready or not.

And on that morning, as the sun peeps over the horizon in a blaze of orange and pink across bare fields and into a room strewn with kids who have been awake for HOURS, I’ll see that my Advent failures aren’t as big a deal as I’d like to think.

In fact, maybe I needed the failure to make it to this day. Maybe I needed to soften up, lighten up, open up. Maybe the failure is part of His gift to me.

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Incidentally, as I was looking around at my own archives, I noticed that I’ve written about this before…last year, after a “failed Advent,” I was inspired by the hope of the full pews.

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