It's Advent and we're only a few weeks away from Christmas. Usually, for our family, with one December birthday to celebrate and my long "to do" list of how to make this the most spiritual Christmas season ever, we are swamped knee-deep in activity, both in and out of the home. All good, mind you, but still, a swamp by any other name can still bog us down and threaten to drag us under.
What's different about this year?
I've been asking myself that over the past few weeks as I've been feeling like a witness to my own life. I think I've narrowed down a few key things and if they helped me. If they helped me, they are bound to help someone else ...
First of all, somehow, without my own consent, I've started keeping away from social media for the most part. I know that's a big blogger no-no. I mean, if you want people to read your blog, you have to pump up the promotion on Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook, Instagram and while you are at it, drop index cards with your blog address in the bags at the checkout lines ... But, something told me to step back and it was that whisper - maybe even the same whisper Elijah heard in the wind - and I listened. This time I listened without fear of losing. I'm just not going to stay the course for the sake of keeping people reading my blog. I want to write from the life I live. That means I have to have a life. Sometimes that means I just need a break.
Deeper down, somewhere in the ever strengthening recesses of my heart I have known that I needed to step back. If God is calling me to slow, and I persist because "that's what bloggers do" then I'm basically going against what I hear God inviting me towards. These days I just don't want to do it my way. I want to follow those deeper and more risky, against the grain calls of the Lord no matter where they lead (for those of you who read the Bible, you know that His call often leads to desert places for a while before anything visibly profitable happens). I've taken an unexpected break from blogging. I didn't decide not to blog, I just haven't had the time to put into the writing, creating images to go with the writing, etc. So I stopped for a week ... or two ... which turned into four. It is freeing to be able to back off in order to come back refreshed with something to say.
As I dropped off of social media - from spending maybe an hour to two hours a day (not counting the two hours plus when I'm actually writing a post and embellishing it) to about five to ten minutes a few times a week, I've gained some free time and a bit of space to myself. Sweet exchange.
Secondly, I have been reading "The Best Yes" by Lysa TerKeurst. Such a great book! I have really internalized the messages I have been growing into for years but not quite solidifying. The wisdom and personal sharing made this book one of my favorites. Thoughts like, "Every decision has a direction and every direction has a destination" gave me focus when thinking through my own "yes" and "no" answers over the past few months. Those "no" answers are hard for me. In order to say "yes" to the best things, and to get to the place where this season is truly a joy, I have had to say "no" to thousands of things. Literally. Each declined opportunity I watch go on by just like watching a train leave the station while I sit firmly planted on the platform waiting for my own train to come. How many times have I gotten on any train that opened its doors to me, just because I couldn't wait, didn't want to disappoint or felt it was something I could fit in without sacrificing anything?
Every "yes" has a cost (or two or three) and I am counting the cost more effectively these days and making sure I am giving my "best yes" instead of just being a "yes girl." Besides all this refined decision making, our whole family purged one item per person every day in November, so we learned the art of letting go and only keeping what is beautiful, meaningful or purposeful. And, oh, girlfriend, there is so much more left to purge! I'm on a purging binge if there really is such a thing! It's so liberating and it simplifies life in the best of ways. Let others have the things we aren't using while we appreciate and use the things we keep.
Letting go of much and saying "no" a whole bunch has left space which has created a sense that we have options. We don't have to rush and there is plenty of time to connect and do what really matters to us. As Ann Voskamp says, "Rushing is for amateurs."
Finally, I'm seeking to be true to myself and what God is specifically fitting me to do. I'm applying that to all areas. In our home education, we follow on specific approach - Charlotte Mason. I've been a hugely devoted follower and have read most of her books as well as books about her and her method. I've been in Charlotte Mason discussion groups, taught others how to implement her methods and principles, etc. At the end of the day I've figured something out. You can let a method or philosophy become supreme in your life until you are adjusting everything to fit into it instead of letting the pieces that fit come into who you are individually and collectively as a family.
It's subtle, but whenever we start holding up an external and then adjusting ourselves to fit into the mold, we can lose our bearings in the process. So, I stepped back. The group (whom I love) is studying a book that isn't a priority for our family right now, so I took a hiatus from attending the meetings. I've been studying my boys and observing their unique needs and strengths and considering what things I need to do to help them grow. Instead of looking out, I'm looking inward and upward. It feels good to draw back and assess and not to measure myself against anything. I am just seeking God and making choices to be true to the person He made me to be. I'm following my true North.
We have forgone a whole lot of our usual Advent flurry:
We aren't doing a Jesse tree this year. We put up the decorations a week later than we expected to do. We aren't planning a giving activity for every day of Advent. Those traditions are great, but they aren't a fit for this year. I feel okay letting them pass us by this once - and I'm a way more pleasant mom and wife as a result. Stress and worship don't mix and I've tried to force so many "good things" into this season in the past that I've burnt myself out and missed the heart of Christmas in the process.
Instead of scheduling our Advent and planning in all sorts of spiritual to-dos, we are spontaneously giving. We are talking a lot about God and His coming. We are continuing our Bible Studies and we are going through an Advent prayer book. We are reading various stories which highlight this season - but even in that we are taking them as they fit rather than compulsively working them into our week. This week we sang at the nursing home with a group of local home educating families. We have had friends over for tea. I'm able to offer to have a friend send her children to me one day a week so I have a bigger brood to educate and care for that day. I have the space to give from my heart because I cut out the online time drain, I focused on my "yes" and "no" answers and I am being true to myself and God.
If you are feeling harried and frenetic this Advent, I encourage you to step back and choose well. Pick the ways you can give your best "yes" answers. That may mean giving a whole lot of "no" answers in the process. Be true to yourself and let go of comparing, keeping up or even seeking to mold into something wonderful that isn't a fit for you after all. Find the peace and joy of Advent by simplifying and allowing God - the God who broke through history for you - to guide you into His unhurried way.