Last week, we looked at making a plan for Advent. So often our spiritual preparation gets lost in the midst of our preparation for the temporal demands of the season. Advent is now half-over, and you may be thinking it’s too late to make a spiritual plan. Quite possibly the demands on your time have ramped up as Christmas approaches, and any good intentions have had to take a backseat in the midst of preparation. So today I’d like to look at how to spiritually prepare during Advent while doing everything on your list. Just because you’re busy and have a long to-do list before December 25 doesn’t mean you can’t grow spiritually during this season.
Most of us are living vocations that don’t allow us to pray for hours each day. That doesn’t let us off the hook. We are still called to be saints, and we are still called to advance in the spiritual life. But how do we do that and still accomplish everything that needs to get done?
When St. Paul tells us to “Pray always,” he didn’t mean that we are supposed to spend every moment of the day praying the Our Father. He also doesn’t mean go around and mumble prayers to yourself all the time. He doesn’t mean our whole life can be spent in the chapel. Some people are called to spend their lives completely dedicated to prayer – but even those people have to take a break from the chapel to go make dinner!
He means that we should be in a habit of prayer, and that we should make prayer part of our lives so that our hearts are prepared for communal prayer and liturgy. We do need to set aside time in our lives to converse with God. But what he is also telling us is that we must make our entire lives a prayer. And one of the ways we do this is by offering everything – our works, joys, sorrows and sufferings – up to God.
So here are some ways to make your already busy Advent a spiritually rich Advent for the final stretch. Didn’t make a plan? No problem. We can start now.
- Offer up the inconveniences and sufferings that come with the stress of the season. You know there is plenty to go around. Whether it’s the parking lot of the mall, the traffic on the highway, or the stress of finances this time of year, offer it back to God. I used to wonder why we would sing about traffic being terrific in There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays. Now that I’m older, I understand that it’s not a flattering description, and yes, traffic causes me terror every day. Instead of losing my temper or having road rage, I have to take deep breath and give it back to God. Tell Him rather than yelling or losing your peace, you’re giving it back to Him for a soul in purgatory or for a friend that is going through a hard time. You’re likely going to endure this over the last weeks of Advent. Instead of allowing it to ruin your day, make that terrific traffic an offering of love.
- Pray for the people around you. I had a friend who rode the bus daily on her commute and used to pray for the strangers she saw out the window. She looks forward to meeting them in Heaven someday and seeing how those little prayers might have affected them. We can do something similar when we are waiting in line at the store or post office. Rather than getting upset by delays, slow clerks, or that person writing a personal check in the express lane, why not take the time (the time you didn’t think you had) to pray for those people?
- Be extra cheerful. Make an intentional, concentrated effort to smile and greet people, even when you might feel distracted or even like biting their heads off. That person that bumped into you in the store? Smile at them. The bagger at the grocery store that might be overworked or depressed? Smile cheerfully and ask him how he is doing. You can almost make a game out of seeing how cheerful you can be to the people around you, especially when you feel least like smiling. When we are interacting with people – either at work, at school, or at the store – we can either be detached and focused solely on getting our tasks done, or we can take a second to smile and make someone’s day a little brighter. Why not choose the latter? It’ll make a difference in your day, too.
- Use the time you waste. Even the busiest person has time they could use in prayer. As mentioned before, we could use the time we spend waiting to pray for those around us. We could pray the Rosary while vacuuming our house, or talk to God while cleaning the kitchen. If you have trouble concentrating, slip in earphones and pray it with one of the many apps available.
- Remember those in need. Whether it’s buying an extra present while we’re doing our shopping and donating it to a charity or paying for the person behind us in the drive-thru, we all have opportunities this season to think of those in need while accomplishing our to-do list.
All of these things are doable while we continue to be productive to prepare for the temporal needs of Christmas. We don’t need to go to a monastery during Advent. We don’t need to neglect the fact that people in our lives require our time and energy this season. To have a holy Christmas, you don’t need to stop buying presents, baking cookies, and sending cards. But all of those things can be done with spiritual intentions that raise our temporal to-do list to another level. Instead of just addressing Christmas cards mindlessly, what about saying a short prayer for each person as you write their name, sign their card, or lick that envelope?
I also want to repeat something I said last week: Say no when necessary. There are a lot of demands on our time this season, and the days fill up quickly. Step back and see if the noise and frenetic activity is worth it. Are the obligations on your list really obligations? Or can I sacrifice something here and there to really make this season quieter and more intentionally focused on the true spirit of Advent.
This weekend, we’ll light the rose candle on the Advent wreath as we celebrate Gaudete Sunday. If we are quiet enough to hear it, there is the crescendo in the liturgy as we have passed the halfway point of Advent and approach the octave before Christmas. Let us strive to continue to make this season one of spiritual preparation for our Messiah.
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