I was thinking about Advent yesterday—I guess it’s sort of a pre-expectant state. Unfortunately, what I’m often expecting the week or so before Advent is that I’ll fail in some way. I won’t slow down enough. I won’t think about God and Jesus enough. I won’t make it meaningful enough, or remember the Reason for the Season. I just have this sinking expectation that I’ll rush through these next four weeks like they’re just your average weeks.
My alternate concern is that I’ll rush through these weeks in a way that feels different, but in the wrong ways. I’ll get all caught up in The Holidays, as our culture likes to carefully call them, focusing on the wrong things, for the wrong reasons—my to-do lists, gift-buying, and the pressure to uphold various family traditions, trying to find places in our busy schedules to squeeze them in. (Quick! Let’s light the Advent candles after dinner, before you have to run off to study for that exam. Great! We will all be here for two hours next Saturday—it’s cookie decorating time!)
Yesterday, I made myself slow down and breathe deeply by scheduling in a walk to the bank. It was an errand I had to run, but I talked myself down from the temptation to just hop in the car. It was a gorgeous day—the kind that’s crisp without being bitter, showing off a brilliant blue sky intersected by the black, bare branches above me. I hate to admit it, but as I walked I had to discipline myself to enjoy it, to stop thinking about all the tasks I had left at home and just take in everything that was right there, all around me.
Suddenly, I noticed a sycamore tree, shining white and glorious, able to show off better in its bare, leafless state than it ever can in the lushness of summer. It was so beautiful that I felt a pull in my heart. Then, of course, I had to take a picture of it. (That’s the photo, above.)
I walked on, my thoughts turning to the Instagram project I participated in last Advent, #AdventPicADay (which involved, as you might guess, posting a photo each day that somehow depicts what Advent means, to me). Looking for Advent each day, in the world around me, was an incredibly meaningful experience. It really grounded me last Advent. (I shared some of the photos in this post.)
But it was also very challenging. Paying attention, really seeing, is hard. And seeing this season in a way that reaches beyond the typical symbols—beyond candles and Christmas trees and cookies—takes a certain presence of mind. It involves seeing more than what it right there, beyond the obvious.
As I thought about participating in #AdventPicADay again this year, I felt myself thinking, “I don’t know. It’s really hard. Maybe I shouldn’t try to do that this year.”
In general, I’m all for giving yourself a break—lowering your expectations and not trying to do too much. But in this case, as soon as I heard my own lame excuse in my head, I knew immediately that it pointed to exactly why I should participate, not why I shouldn’t. I want Advent to be different—even challenging. I want to travel through it in a way that involves not longer to-do lists, but elevated expectations, the holy weightiness it deserves.
This will be one way to weave that attentiveness into the days ahead. Have you found actions and disciplines that make Advent more meaningful for you?