Defending the Spark of the Divine During Advent...

It has been the prayer of my motherhood to spend my life loving until I have nothing left. I do not wish to be a hoarder of energy or blessing or gift... "saving it up" so to make sure I have enough to last. I want to go to the throne of grace emptied of His gifts, like St. Paul who gave all through Christ so willingly...

I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you the more, am I to be loved the less? {2 Corinthians 12:15}

But as I reach the (likely) midpoint of my life and the desert walk of hard motherhood, I realize something for the first time. Something I knew intellectually but never wanted to believe...

That I don't really have enough in the first place. There will be nothing left to hoard and anything I think is mine, never really has been. There is not enough of my energy, my time, my gifts, my treasure. I fall short on every count. Any earthly beauty will pass and the photos and memories will be as a whisper that was swept away. Anything that I can take with me is not extra or left over -- nothing at all from my hoarding -- but only gathered from each present moment of sacrifice and sent directly as an offering to Christ.

Every act of life hoarding (i.e. selfishness) is only a grasp at some measure of control. Meaning, of course, that I have not really given it over to my great and mighty God. My young motherhood passes into middle age and I see my youthful error: I thought that God was simply my back up plan.

As I get ready to enter the holy season of Advent, I realize (with some alarm) that it has been many years since I have truly been able to slowly and fruitfully prepare for Christmas. In spite of my efforts, I inevitably end up in the mad dash with the rest of humanity. Except, what I could accomplish with 4 children, I can no longer accomplish with seven. And still I keep trying to make it all happen the same way. I presume that it is up to ME to make Advent and Christmas a great success. Foolish woman.

Every year I say it will be different. And I say it again now. Because I am learning (ever so slowly) that an Advent done well is essential for a Christmas of deep joy. When I wake up on December 26th and breathe "Thank God it's over" (and I have)... I know I have wasted Advent.

“If a tiny spark of God’s love already burns within you, do not expose it to the wind, for it may get blown out… Stay quiet with God.
Do not spend 
your time in useless chatter.”

- St. Charles Borromeo

So here I am preparing for Advent 2014... A little person with a tiny spark left seeking Christ. Knowing that a busy, worldly Advent is enough to snuff it out. It doesn't take much. It might simply be the stubborn decision to send the Christmas cards when I don't have the time. Allowing the non-essentials to steal from healthy rest. Being grumpy with my interrupting children. Giving away my joy.

The key to getting through without losing the spark is to enter into the ocean of God's rhythm and let His waves carry me. The liturgical year is a greenhouse for that rhythm and I am only really at peace when I fall into that other time. Counter-cultural time. Grace time.

I felt the first waves of Advent panic weeks before All Saints' Day when the stores were displaying not only Fall decor but also giving us the first peek at Christmas. The waves began to come; not one at a time, but on top of each other, like the tantric contractions of a chemically induced birth. No room to breath. No time to recover or recollect. The torment of effort and struggle out of proper time began to smother my hope. And the loss of rhythm shook me even as I stood in the middle of that big box store. 

It is those soul-baring moments when I realize how endangered my "tiny spark" really is. Exteriorly, I am a shell of spiritual confidence. Inside, I am delicate and afraid, ignorant and wandering. The bawdy holiday "sparkle" hides that core, which is the one thing that really needs to be touched and renewed by Christ. The real gift of Advent is to strip us down to prepare for the birth of True Joy.

So I caught a glimpse of a stripped and panicked soul in that store. And there is no craft activity, holiday party or blog post which can ease that kind of panic. Half an hour scrolling through Pinterest helped briefly reassure me that I still had control. But my conscience awakened during my troubled dreams at night and in the morning, the words of Mother Teresa found their way into my soul...

I ask you one thing: do not tire of giving, but do not give your leftovers. Give until it hurts, until you feel the pain.

Every year, I enter Advent feeling already broken. Spinning my wheels on the road headed away from the giving until it hurts and running into my cocoon of self-preservation. I become afraid because I see very clearly... that I am not enough. And I never will be. As long as I run, I will miss the opportunity of being carried through the waves... and of being, not only enough, but more than enough... through Him.

Who made me the mother of 7 children and manager of a busy household? He did. Who has allowed me to struggle with low energy and chronic health issues? He has. Who knew from the beginning of time that I would fail so often? He did. And Who promised that He would never leave me nor forsake me? Yes, Jesus did.

Advent is a season of Yes to grace and silence. And a season of No to those things which will snuff out the "tiny spark" which still burns in me for love of the Holy. It is a shelter season. A fortress season. A greenhouse season...

 The outward preparation will never allow God to make us enough. Never. In spite of my emotional weakness heading in, I know intellectually that I must deliberately and definitively give this season in life immediately to Jesus. It will not slow down because I wish it to. I must intentionally give it away.

The time of NO must begin now... so that I will be ready for the time of YES. I recently said no to the easy and pleasant chatter of family and yes to an evening alone. I danced like a silly little girl in my living room, giving praise to God and then being silent with Him. And then I read aloud some words of faith and preparation for the coming season...

The family tree of Christ startlingly notes not one woman but four. Four broken women -- women who felt like outsiders, like has-beens, like never-beens. Women who were weary of being taken advantage of , of being unnoticed and uncherished and unappreciated; women who didn't fit in, who didn't know how to keep going, what to believe, where to go --women who had thought about giving up. And Jesus claims exactly these who are wandering and wondering and wounded and worn out as His. He grafts you into His line and His story and His heart, and He gives you His name, His lineage, His righteousness. He graces you with plain grace.

I read Ann Voskamp's words aloud with authority and confidence to an audience of empty couches. I was a great orator. And then I choked on the last lines. My heart was captured. My Lord and my God. Please... let's begin again. 

I turned Ann's beautiful book over in my hands knowing that God would speak to me through her writing. He always does. I felt that it would be entirely appropriate to step right into the book (Narnian style) and stay there, hidden from the garishness of commercial preparations and busyness. My eyes fell again to the book jacket...

"I want a Christmas that whispers, Jesus."

And really, what is there left to say? It's a month until Advent begins. My efforts may not look pretty from the bleachers... but I'm all in. Thanks be to God.

Last year, we had a great time hiding and finding the wise men as they journeyed through our house. The game helped keep me focused and assisted us with finishing a Jesse Tree all the way through (not always an easy task, am I right, moms?). I'd love to do it again sometime. 

But this year, I'm heading straight for the Jesse Tree with the family... and staying there... in prayerful simplicity. Instead of toys to motivate me through the mornings, I choosing "staying quiet with God." Every year is different and I'm okay with that. If God is calling you to enter into the liturgical shelter during Advent, I think these books will bless you as well...

UPDATE: The books by Ann Voskamp above are not Catholic but I wouldn't recommend them if I thought they contained error. They are not the only resources that we use  (we have a rather large Catholic library) but fit beautifully within our Catholic context. For excellent Catholic resources, visit Joyfilled Family's Jesse Tree Resource list HERE

*This post includes affiliate links. If you make a purchase through my links, you help support our homeschooling family. BUT... I would still recommend these books to you even if I didn't get a penny.

Posted on November 13, 2014 and filed under Family Life, Faith, Liturgical Year, Spiritual Life, Advent, Christmas.