Preparing to Prepare: How I am Planning to Cultivate a Meaningful Advent season

In the past couple of years, I’ve embraced the practice of thinking through significant milestones, holidays and seasons in the days or weeks leading up to them, and thoughtfully pondering what my hopes for the event might be. From there, I’m able to consider what it will take to actualize those hopes, and then I make a detailed plan with concrete action steps for working towards my desired ends. 

For instance, my sister and her baby daughter visited for a couple of days around Halloween, and through journaling ahead of time I determined that I wanted it to be a fun, festive and fall-ish weekend during which we enjoyed our kids and one another. With this vision in mind, I planned meals that felt autumnal (pumpkin bread for breakfast, butternut squash ravioli for dinner, and spiced cider with popcorn and candy corn for an evening snack!) and activities that were specific to the season (visiting an orchard, canning homemade applesauce, and taking our kids trick-or-treating). 

Now, planning for a long weekend with my sister may seem like overkill – does fun really need to be planned?! Couldn’t we just have a nice time together without making an agenda?! – and for some people it might be. But for me, being intentional about how I spend my limited time helps me to manage my expectations for an event and make the most of the hours that are given to me. What’s more, preparation helps me to capably and joyfully serve the people around me. I was a better hostess – more present mentally and emotionally, and also more on top of making my sister’s stay cozy and delicious – because I had prepared for the visit. 

Suffice it to say, I function best and enjoy life most when I have adequately readied myself for the days, weeks and seasons of significance that dot my calendar pages ahead. 

Right now, I’m busy preparing myself for the liturgical season of Advent. 

What is Advent?

Advent begins the Church’s liturgical year and includes the four Sundays and weekdays leading up to the Nativity of the Lord. Stemming from the Latin word “ad-venire,” which means “to come to,” the season of Advent is a time for preparation as we approach the feast day on which we celebrate the incarnation of our Lord. We prepare our minds to remember Jesus’s birth on Christmas day over two thousand years ago; we prepare our homes and hearts to welcome the presence of Christ in others in this present moment; and we prepare our lives for Christ’s second coming at the end of time. 

What are my hopes for the season of Advent?

Considering my hopes and desires for any season usually consists of me journaling, in stream of consciousness, what I long for in that period of time. Here’s what that looks like for Advent this year: I want to draw near to God through prayer this season. I want to help my young children feel the delight of joyful preparation and expectant waiting. I want to be open to the presence of Christ in others. 

What will it take to actualize these hopes?

I want to draw near to God through prayer this season.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: there are countless ways to pray, and none of them are wrong. That said, I’ve found that my prayer life is the richest when I focus on just one or two forms of prayer at a given time, rather than jumping from one to the next on any given day. So, for this upcoming season of Advent, I’d like to cultivate a specific prayer routine involving one, two or at most three forms of prayer integrated into my day. This doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for me. 

I want to help my young children feel the delight of joyful preparation and expectant waiting.

I take my role as the primary educator of my children in terms of their faith formation seriously, largely because I know that what I teach them and model for them during their young and moldable years could (and likely will) have a lifelong impact on their spirituality. But I also take it seriously because it is fun for me. It is a joy to share traditions with them, to tell them the stories of our faith, to engage with them in conversation about God and the Communion of Saints, and to invite them into relationship with their church community and with Jesus. I am excited to lean into all of these tasks this Advent season. I want to get clear about specific daily, weekly and once-in-the-season activities we will do as a family to joyfully prepare and expectantly wait for the great Feast of Christmas. 

I want to be open to the presence of Christ in others.

One of my favorite pieces of Scripture comes from the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus says, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Is there a better time of year to look for the presence of God in others – or to be the presence of God for others – than during the season in which we are called to meditate on the fact that God became human to walk among the people whom God loves? My day job is working as a psychotherapist at an agency where almost all of my clients are desperately poor and struggling. It is here, especially, that I want to be attuned to the movement of the spirit and the presence of Jesus. 

What concrete action steps am I taking now – and planning to take in the future – in order to be able to fully lean into the Season of Advent? 

I want to draw near to God through prayer this season.

  • I’ve been loving the Hallow App, and I know that they’ll have meaningful Advent prayer experiences. I’m going to plan to spend at least one way of my commute listening to one of their programs.
  • I like keeping an Advent devotional like this one on my coffee table or kitchen island, so that when I have a free moment, I can pick it up and read the day’s entry. 

I want to help my young children feel the delight of joyful preparation and expectant waiting.

  • Daily rituals: there’s nothing quite like an Advent Calendar with a treat per day to infuse the season with a thrill of daily anticipation and joy, so we’ll continue that tradition from past years. Or, I'm considering doing this fun Mary on the Mantle activity as our daily Advent excitement, instead.  We’ll also light our family advent wreath each night at dinner, though I’m thinking of swapping it out this year with a wooden, child friendly wreath so that I can involve my toddlers in the “lighting.” 
  • Weekly rituals: I would like my kids to feel connected to our church community during this season, so I’m going to see what my parish is offering; perhaps a weekly Advent vesper service?
  • Once-in-the-season rituals: often when we think of preparing for something, the preparation seems like the “work part” that leads to the “fun part”. I want my children to remember that preparation itself can be joyful and exciting – indeed, that’s one of the main messages of Advent that I hope to instill – so I’m going all in on special preparation days. We’ll plan a day for Christmas baking, a day for decorating the house, and a day on which I take each of the kids shopping (let’s be real: let them look online) for gifts for one another and their preschool gift exchange (each child is asked to bring in a wrapped book, and I’m eyeing this one).  

I want to be open to the presence of Christ in others.

  • One of the best ways for me to notice the presence of God in my life, or the presence of Christ in others, is for me to take time to reflect at the end of the day on where I saw the movement of the spirit throughout my day. I do this best through journaling, and this season, I plan to consider specifically where I saw Jesus in my human brothers and sisters throughout the day. 

Friends, consider joining me in preparing for the season of preparation ahead. A little work now can go a long way to opening ourselves to the meaning and beauty of the season. 

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