Advent is a time of expectation, and preparation for the celebration of Christ's birth. While much of the Christmas hype is focused on the day itself, along with the gifts to be purchased and exchanged, Christmas is better thought of as process, a time to be lived through and savored, day by day, week by week, rather than rushed through to the end.
This year our family purchased and decorated our Christmas tree the weekend after Thanksgiving. Maggie, our eldest and a senior in high school, had requested the early start. My husband Jimmy and I granted her request without hesitation, as we well realize that next year she will be away in college. The following weekend, we made a wreath and lit the one candle as a family to mark the first Sunday of Advent.
The joy of Christmas Day is not simply the opening of the gifts, but the time spent decorating, buying presents and wrapping them. The energy and effort expended to honor and celebrate the birth of Christ and to celebrate our loved ones, all of whom are made in the image of Christ and have the light of Christ within them.
As we pass from November to December, the days get darker earlier, the weather gets colder and the traffic gets worse as holiday parties, after-work shopping, and get-togethers swing into high gear. The pace can be dizzying and overwhelming if we do not carefully control our schedules. There is always more to do than we can possibly fit into the day. It's tempting to cut back on sleep and exercise, and rely on party appetizers or fast food to fill us up along the way.
While these temporary shortcuts might provide us with a few more minutes in the day, the items we are cutting back are the same items that have been proven scientifically to help us feel better: sleep, exercise and proper fuel for our bodies. To survive the holiday season, instead of pushing ourselves to the limit, we would be better off to acknowledge and understand that we can be at our best only when our best self is available. To truly be present for someone else, we first have to make sure that we ourselves are on solid ground and that the light of Christ within us has space to shine and be seen by others.
You might wonder how this is this possible in a world where so many of us feel unsure, unstable or frightened. In this time of great fluidity and change, traditions, routines and rituals can provide comfort and the feeling of control. They allow us to remain centered and focused while the outside world is churning.
The routines we value the most are the ones that involve spending time together. Lighting of the Advent candles, decorating the tree, buying presents for families who are experiencing homelessness, participating in Christmas Day service for the homeless, baking Christmas cookies and spending Christmas Eve at Nanny's provide us with ways to be together while celebrating.
These routines allow us to breathe, relax and appreciate those we love; to feel safe, to feel secure and to feel loved. During challenging times, often the best present we can give someone is our presence, our peace. To just be with them.
While it's always tempting to do more and to be involved more, especially this time of year, this is exactly the time we need to slow down, to do less, to be present more with those whom we love. To simply be with, to be quiet, to be present.
This Advent, remember that the season is not just about the event, but about the expectation, the waiting, the preparation, the everyday events where you can see God's grace shine. Slow down and let your presence be your present this season.
Jackie Gingrich Cushman is the co-author, along with her father, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, of the book "5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours." Read more reports from Jackie Gingrich Cushman — Click Here Now.