“Happy birthday, Baby Jesus!” I whispered to myself through clenched teeth. Of course, while the words were pleasant enough, the tone inside my head was considerably…not. This is supposed to be the joyful week of Advent, I thought. But if these children keep bickering on the way to Mass I am going to lose my ever-loving mind. An Advent of Joy, indeed!
Bickering and Bellyaching
It wasn’t just on the way to Mass, though. The bickering had started the night before when we went to visit Santa at our community’s rec center.
First, there was bickering about whose hair was going to be done how. Then there was bickering about who had to sit where in the car. Then they bickered about having to stand next to each other in front of a beautiful Christmas tree so I could take a picture. After that, they bickered about who dropped the candy cane so that it broke and, therefore, who was going to have to eat the defective one instead of the whole one. One daughter even bickered with Santa himself when she complained about the fact that our ding-dang Elf on the Shelf doesn’t move much or hide well.
How do you bicker with Santa, I ask you?!
The next morning in the van on the way to Mass, the bellyaching continued. Along much the same veins, my children seemed to be united in only one thing. They wanted to see exactly how crazy they could make their mother before she totally blew her stack.
Thankfully, one stern, “Alright, enough. Everyone be quiet for the rest of the way and think about all the things you need to pray for” from their dad and that was that. Have I mentioned lately that I love my husband?
But I can’t say that my difficulty finding joy is totally their fault. Not even close.
So much to do, so little time.
Not finding my joy might be more my fault that I’d like to admit.
Now, I’m not going to elaborate on the cliche’ that moms are overworked and underappreciated at Christmastime. Partly, because we’ve all heard it before, but also because (hold onto your hats) I don’t think it’s exactly true.
Yes, moms have a ton to do to prepare for Christmas. Nobody will argue that. We bear the brunt of the tasks associated with home and hearth, though, so it only makes sense. And doing it all in a time crunch between the jobs and sick kids and extra events that come with the season? You bet it’s a lot! However! (And that’s a big however.) There are two important caveats to this. Number one, I might suggest that a lot of these must-dos and must-haves are things we place on ourselves. And number two, I think our families really do appreciate our efforts!
Now, we may not be drowning in their gratitude and innumerable thank yous all day every day, but it’s there. I see it when my daughter grabs a pillow off the couch and lays on the floor to stare at the Christmas tree in the dark of the morning before school. I hear it when my son yells, “YES!” when he sees the cookies he especially loves cooling on the counter. And I feel it when my husband puts his arm around my shoulder and whispers, “You’re doing a great job, you know.”
Practice Advent Joy
We see it all the time, don’t we? Cutesy memes and reminders to CHOOSE JOY and FIND JOY and such. Now, I don’t know about you, but I am not one who is naturally predisposed to Pollyanna-ishness when I am stressed. I can’t just choose it. If I look, I don’t always find it.
But, what if we decide to practice it?
Two times in as many days this week, God has reached down in a quiet way to remind me how to do this. Maybe one of them will light a spark in you, too.
Because Jesus told us to…
Once the bickering had subsided and we got to Mass yesterday, I feel like I kinda got sneak-attacked by the gospel. Here’s the excerpt that hit me square in my less-than-joyful heart:
Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” (Matthew 11:4-5)
In this passage, disciples of John the Baptist (who was in prison) had come to seek Jesus for some reassurance. They, along with John, were sad and grieving some really hard things. So what does Jesus do? He reminds them of the good. He has them list all of the miraculous things that have happened. In essence, he was having them practice joy in the hardest of times.
…we do the thing.
This morning, in my O Radiant Dawn Advent devotional, author Elizabeth Foss had this to say:
These are the days of very full calendars and very firm deadlines. These are the days women tend to grit their teeth and just get things done. Soften your shoulders, friend! Bring your tired face into a gentle smile. Do the thing, but also love in the doing. If it doesn’t bring glory to God, it isn’t worth the time or energy. If it doesn’t bring glory to God, it doesn’t bring you closer to the creche.
Smile. Do the thing. Love in the doing. These are ways to practice joy. I hate to say “fake it til you make it” because I honestly don’t think we’re faking anything. Sometimes, we just forget to be joyful! But practice makes perfect, so they say. So why not practice?
Let’s practice this Advent Joy together, friends! Can we put smiles on or faces, no matter how small or forced they may be to start with? Can we make note of the little miracles God blesses us with day in and day out? I’m not talking “blind will see and deaf will hear” type miracles, not necessarily. But maybe more the “Hallelujah! Cereal is BOGO at Publix this week and I didn’t have to remind my kid to study their spelling words eleventy-hundred times” kind of miracles.
Practice that Advent Joy with me. Let’s help each other along the path to the manger. The road can be hard, but we don’t walk it alone. Let’s walk it together, with JOY.
Want to read more?
Week 1: An Advent of Hope
Week 2: An Advent of Love