By Holly Gustafson
Hope is the theme of the first week of Advent, and this is the virtue that gives us the certitude, the confidence, and the conviction that our God is a God of His Word: God keeps His promise. Hope implies anticipation of future Good; when we act in Hope, we faithfully anticipate receiving the promises of God, and trustingly believe that those promises were truly meant for us.
Since Hope is such a big virtue (it’s one of the theological virtues, along with Faith and Love), I sometimes find it hard to grasp with my mere mortal understanding. It’s overwhelming to contemplate the fulfillment of God’s promises in my life when they’re so over-abundant; where do I even begin? So, in this first week of Advent, I’m focusing on just one of God’s numerous promises to me: the promise of renewal.
“The all Holy Son of the Father came in our realms to renew us who have been made in His image.” St. Athanasius reminds us of the “reason for the season:” God became incarnate for us, to make us new, to renew our spirits. And I’m going to be needing it.
Advent has not, historically, been a time for renewal for me, and there have been many years when I have found the month of December to be exhausting, overwhelming and stressful. With five children, life is already busy, but when you add the extras of the holiday season (the shopping, baking, concerts, get-togethers), the weeks leading up to Christmas start to feel more demanding and hectic than renewing and restful.
If I’m being totally honest, there are years when I would come out the other side of Christmas feeling not renewed at all, but exactly the opposite: tired, frazzled, and feeling like I missed my chance to enter into the liturgical season of Advent because I was simply too busy.
A lot of this was my own fault. I was addicted to controlling Christmas. I had to do the baking (and the iced sugar cookies had to look perfect), I had to buy the perfect gifts for everybody (I kept a spreadsheet), and I had to have the perfectly designed Christmas cards with a picture of the perfectly coordinated family on it.
After one particular trying Advent (during which I melted down over a missing pair of plaid pants that would pull together our entire family Christmas picture, and also during which I blew up at my husband for setting up the Christmas village all wrong), I realized something had to change. I did not want to come out of another Christmas feeling spiritually spent. I craved the renewal that God promised.
But just as Mary made space for Jesus to become incarnate in her womb, and just as the stable occupants made space for Him to be born in their midst, I needed to make space during Advent for Christ’s renewing presence in my life. I stopped putting so much pressure on myself to have the perfectly iced cookies, and the perfectly decorated house, and the perfectly chosen presents, and the perfectly coordinated family photo. And, in fact, I realized that most of the things that I thought had to be just right in order for Christmas to be “perfect” weren’t actually necessary at all. They were just taking up space in my spirit so that there was no room for renewal, and rest.
Do you generally consider Advent to be a time of spiritual renewal and rest? Is there something that you can add (more time in prayer, spiritual reading, a daily rosary, etc.) to make space for spiritual renewal? Is there something that you can subtract (an item on your to-do list, mindless screen time, etc.) to make space for rest this Advent?
Holly Gustafson lives with her husband, James, and their five children, in Regina, where they attend Christ the King Parish. Holly received her Masters in Linguistics at the University of Manitoba, and now pursues her love of language through art, writing, public speaking, and unsolicited grammatical advice. The best advice she ever received was from her spiritual friend, St. Faustina, who told her that when in doubt, "Always ask Love. It advises best."
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