Part 2: Events and Relationships
This blog post is supposed to be about how to get creative during Advent in regard to special events and our relationships. And I have to say, this is a tough one. I think the tendency is to try too hard to do too much and make things too special. We set ourselves up for frustration and disappointment, not to mention stress. So here are just a couple of ideas for how to move through Advent and into Christmas with grace and attentiveness.
Make your choices. In most cases, I’m really not obligated to attend a holiday function. I may feel that it’s the right thing to do, but there’s so much going on this time of year, I can’t go to every concert and party. If I have children in school, of course I try to attend the programs that involve them, but in some families, especially if multiple schools are involved, parents and grandparents have to split up to cover all the events. If that’s the case, then just plan how to do that. Some of us have obligations in our church community. But even there, I can choose not to attend every service and not to volunteer to help with every event, whether it’s the seasonal concert or the annual charity bake sale. Better to choose one or two things, and give myself to them fully, than be rushing around and not in the best mood.
Relationships are complex and tricky even on ordinary days; add a holiday season, and all those quirky personality traits become annoyances, and the conflicts simmering beneath the surface can rise to a full boil. And usually the answer isn’t to buy major, expensive gifts, which most of us can’t do anyway. Most of the people in my life either have everything they need, or what they do need is major and not anything I can buy for them. Sometimes we regard gift giving as the one solution that is supposed to fix everything, and it just doesn’t work that way.
I am so not an expert in the relationship department, but here’s my one suggestion to try on your relationships during this holiday time of year: ask people what they need and what they want from you. Grandma probably doesn’t want another pretty vase; she’d rather you come over and have coffee with her and a nice long, uninterrupted visit. You’re not that great at choosing clothes for your sister, anyway; what she’ll cherish is the afternoon the two of you drove to that little town with all the antique shops, or the evening you went together on the tour of Christmas lights or decorated Victorian homes. You may have several good friends, and you can’t afford to buy gifts for each one, so you throw a little party instead—with nothing but popcorn, hot cider, and a double feature of classic films—Christmas movies or something else.
Don’t apologize if you can’t spend time with every person or buy all the gifts you’d like to buy. Apologies make people feel uncomfortable. The people who really care about you will understand that your budget is tight or that illness in the family has curtailed your social schedule this year. In some cases, it might be more enjoyable to plan a date with a friend after the flurry of holiday madness; send her an e-mail to set up a time after the first of the year, when both of you are not as rushed and can enjoy the time better.
Take advantage of events in your faith community. Sometimes we are too worried about church obligations to notice the opportunities right where we are. This year, my church has several projects going that benefit people who are homeless and/or hungry, including families at a neighborhood elementary school. Simply by participating in any of these projects, right in my faith family, I am doing what is important to me, and I don’t have to come up with a plan of my own. Most faith communities have celebratory meals and other events during the holidays, and we can spend time with people we love in the context of the larger group; we can visit with neighbors without anyone having to arrange a separate appointment. In the early Church, gathering regularly met many needs, including worship, prayer, counseling, and getting physical aid. Our faith communities continue to accomplish all of these things. Can we relax and enjoy these opportunities?
Use this Advent season to listen to those you love. Allow your attention to fuel creative love.
Questions you might consider:
- In what ways do I tend to add fuel to the holiday combustion of stress, fatigue, and guilt?
- Which events are most important to me this year? How can I say no to the rest?
- Which relationships do I most want to nurture during this Advent? What simple plans can I make to do that?
- To which ministry, whether in my church or elsewhere, would I like to lend my support?