“I think [you] need [to do] a sermon or blog on HOW TO SLOW DOWN for Advent. I heard you describe Advent as the time we slow down to remember Jesus’s first coming and I feel a smirk form on my face. Because it is ironic that the holidays and December is THE busiest time of year! SLOW DOWN??? Ha!”
I got this text message from a friend of mine this morning. Not only did it make me bust up laughing, it also got me thinking – this is the busiest time of year for most of us, and sometimes the most depressing. We always have such high hopes for spending time with our family, savoring the candlelight and special moments… and by the time Christmas is over we’re saying “Thank God that is done with for another year!” Most of us want to slow down for the Holidays, but life rarely accommodates those desires. In this post I’ll offer a few thoughts on the matter.
Life will never slow down, you have to make the time
First, and most important, is the realization that there will never be an opportune time to slow down. Sure, back in the day when everyone was dependent upon daylight and warm temperatures to work we were able to take the Winter off for the most part, but that is no longer the case. While we, as humans, were designed to thrive in seasonal ebb and flow, that is not the world we live in, unless we choose to. Just like working out, or any other Important But Not Urgent activity, slowing down is something you have to schedule in. It is a huge pain in the butt to start, but once you’re in the routine it is hard to imagine how you ever functioned without it.
Silence is Sacred
If you really want to slow down your life enough to savor the season and become a new person, you are going to have to find time for silence – alone or as a family. As the father to a toddler who likes to be up early, I have two options if I want Silence. I can either turn on Daniel Tiger and take a 20 minute break in the dining room or I can wait until after he is in bed. Most recently, the late in the evening quiet time is working for me.
Silence, for me, is reminiscent of Genesis 1. The world was formless, silent, void – and into that silence God spoke a new creation. If we want to hear God’s voice, and if we want to be continuously remade, we need to be silent, there isn’t another way around it.
The whole point of the Liturgical calendar is to intentionally disrupt our day-to-day lives and restructure our worldview around the Truths of God’s Word. Advent is the time where we remember Jesus’s first coming and anticipate his return. It is the time where we meditate on deep and somber Truths – that humanity was (and still is) enslaved to sin and unable to free itself, therefore God had to send his Son Jesus to die our death so that we could live his life. We remember that the religious and political structures of the day were opposed to this Christ child and wanted to murder him to protect their power. We exult in God’s love expressed in Jesus and we take time to ponder Jesus’s return.
Advent and the other Church seasons are intended to help us understand our lives through the lens of Redemptive History, rather than through the lens of human progress. (Indeed, most saints throughout history are appalled at how little humans have changed – our external circumstances have certainly progressed, but our hearts have not.) Included in the process of disrupting our lives and reinterpreting our history is the use of ritual and symbol.
Create Rituals for your family
I was tempted to write that heading as “Create meaningful rituals for your family,” but rituals are, by their very nature, meaningful and symbolic. Perhaps the most common ritual in Advent is the Advent wreath. It can be a beautiful ritual for your family, or for your own devotion. Simply light the designated number of candles, read some Scripture out loud and spend time thinking about it or talking about it as you watch the flames dance. It is amazing how Holy Spirit brings things to our attention when we let our minds wander during devotions. You might be reminded of a broken relationship and feel prompted to fix it, you might think of someone you haven’t talked to for awhile and feel prompted to reach out… or you might remember that the laundry is in the wash and you’d better flip it or else it will start stinking.
Don’t be afraid to start rituals by yourself. Remember my toddler who I sent away to watch Daniel Tiger? What if he came out to the dining room while I had my candles lit and my Bible out? Well, I’m sure he’d ask me what I was doing and then I’d have the opportunity to tell him about Jesus and what the Advent season is really about. I’m sure he wouldn’t get it and that I’d have to let him blow out the candles, but I think it is powerfully formative for our kids to “catch us” doing our own private devotions. The more meaningful, enjoyable and symbolic we can make our rituals the better.
Your attention is precious
While I firmly believe that our time is our most precious resource, having time without attention is pretty worthless. Ever been at work and know you have projects to do, but you just can’t get your brain to click into gear? I have! And the thing that gets my brain back into gear? Cleaning my office. When I have crap all over my desk, piles of papers and receipts and all manner of coffee cups, I can’t focus – but as soon as everything is cleared off my brain unlocks and I can move on with my day.
The same is true in our homes – there are so many things we want to do, but we get so distracted that we can’t really focus. I’m definitely an advocate for a minimalist lifestyle, but I know that isn’t for anyone. Just know that the more stuff you have around you, the more potential for distractions. So if your true intent is to get closer to God this Advent season, it may be worthwhile to put some of the “stuff” in the garage. Who knows, you may even find that you function just as well without it.
The whole point of this section on attention is to highlight the fact that we have a limited ability to focus. This means that we need to prioritize what gets our attention. A dinging phone is expertly designed to grab your attention, which is probably why it needs to be put on silent and in another room if you want to really read, focus and think.
Revamping your lifestyle
Prioritizing friendship with God has caused me to redesign my lifestyle. For instance, my wife and I don’t have the internet in our home, we also don’t have cable or satellite television. We try to limit our son’s screen time as well as our own. We have one day a week where we try to take a tech sabbath, turning off our phones and even leaving them at home. We build into our weekly and monthly schedules time to be with God.
I need those kinds of disciplines, I also want them. Because I only have one kid, I don’t really know the pressure that comes with having more, so please take that into consideration, but please don’t make it an excuse.
Well, there you have it. If you really want to slow down, you have to acknowledge that life isn’t going to slow down for you, you have to make it happen by cutting out other things. And, once you’ve made the time, the strategic use of silence, meditation, ritual and decluttering will go a long way towards slowing down your life. Prioritizing a friendship with Jesus has a pretty big spillover effect, so don’t be surprised if you want to stay in this lower gear even after the Holidays have ended. And that brings me to my last point…
Our tendency as human beings is to complicate and over commit. It takes work to keep things simple and provide ample margins in our day for the things we deem most important. But as much work as it is to declutter and have firm boundaries, it is even more work to go without that kind of structure. You are going to have stress, you are going to have to exert effort, so do you want to do it in a proactive way that puts you in control of your schedule and relationships or do you want to experience life in a reactive way where it seems like you are never in control and always at the mercy of other people’s schedules? What I have found is that when I own the responsibility to manage my time and I schedule in my Important But Not Urgent activities I have more time and compassion to help other people.
I hope this helps you slow down this Holiday season. Let me know if you put anything into practice and how it helps. I’d also love to hear what you do to slow down for the Holidays.
As always, thanks for reading!