Excerpt from Take Time For Him: Simple, Soulful Gospel Meditations to Ignite the Busy Person’s Spiritual Life by Angela M. Jendro © 2019. Available on Amazon. Order your own copy!
- *Have the Sunday Gospel at your fingertips
- *Highlight and write in the margins
- *A place to keep your meditations for the year
First Sunday of Advent
Advent marks the beginning of a new year (liturgically speaking). We pause to praise God that we made it through last year on the wings of His grace, and to begin anew for the next. A lot can happen in a year, so we need to re-center ourselves in the Lord, to ground ourselves in His love, His strength, His Wisdom, and His peace. Yoked to Christ, we will be able to embrace unexpected joys and successes with humble gratitude and persevere through sorrows and failures without fear.
In the spirit of new year’s resolutions, Advent also provides the opportunity for Christians to step back, evaluate their lives, and make renewed goals for personal growth. Like most resolutions, we hope to imbue the next year with deeper meaning and healthier living (physically, emotionally, and spiritually). We can’t know when our lives will end or when Christ will come again, but we can be our best selves when it does and try to live with as few regrets as possible.
So how do we do this, especially in our complicated and fast- paced culture? Where do we even begin and what steps can we take? To start, we absolutely MUST make following Christ our first and highest priority. Jesus assures us in Matthew 6:33 that if we “seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness”, everything else will fall into place. The first habit we need to make, is turning to Christ EVERY day and to develop the ability to “Practice the Presence of God”i as Brother Lawrence famously termed it. It’s human nature to grow lax over time and most of us can’t avoid being overwhelmed periodically by daily life. In these moments, when we need prayer the most, it’s usually the first to be neglected. Instead, in your stress, make your prayer the rock that soothes your anxiety or sadness, that calms your anger, and dispels the clouds of confusion. By the same token, during times of success and feelings of happiness, we can easily be distracted from our connection to Christ or our underlying need for Him. Instead, rejoice with Christ, let Him share your joy especially since He was instrumental in achieving it. These annual pauses can reorient us in a positive way if we use our triumphs and our failures as fuel for richer discipleship.
Although goals need to be tailored to the individual, they endure the longest and bear the most fruit if done in community. For example, last year during faculty workshops leading up to the start of school (I’m a middle and high school teacher), a colleague and I decided to go for a walk during our lunch break each day. We lamented that our healthy summer living would be quickly replaced by the frenetic schedule of the school year and our summer habits of regular exercise would fade away leaving us tired and downcast. We resolved to walk together for an hour once a week after school. Plenty of reasons presented themselves every week to cancel the walk, but we stuck to our priority of that small bit of exercise (and friendship and spiritual conversation) together. This was the baby step that kept me in the habit each week and soon I added another day of exercise on my own. Not long after, a friend told me about an opportunity for a family gym membership that was affordable and a good way for our kids to burn off energy together. When school began the following year, I smiled as I didn’t have to complain to my colleague about the impending physical atrophy and stress. Instead I felt amazing knowing I had been able to develop a much healthier balance in my life and knew I could take care of myself and keep up at work and home.
Like our bodies, our spiritual lives have a tremendous ability to bounce back with a little determination and perseverance. It’s tempting to look back with nostalgia at our previous achievements and make excuses for our current atrophy. Instead, find a friend and make a small, achievable goal to reinvigorate your spiritual life. Over the course of the year, similar to exercise, it will begin to bear greater and greater fruit, spurring you on to take more steps toward spiritual health and endurance. What sometimes begins as feeling laborious and painful eventually becomes something that feels so good you look forward to it and find ways to increase it.
Begin with the basics – go to Mass EVERY Sunday. No excuses. (Unless you are seriously ill of course). My kids and I have a tradition of getting doughnuts afterward to celebrate Sunday. As they’ve gotten older doughnuts are sometimes replaced with McDonald’s breakfast or as teens a mocha latte fun coffee drink. Whatever the treat, find a way to keep the celebration of Christ at Mass going afterward.
Pray, EVERY day. Start with saying thank you. Praise God and consider His goodness and greatness. Next, be honest with God about the day ahead and the help you will need to radiate Christ in the situations you will be in. Finally, intercede for others. Consider the needs of those around you, especially your family and people at work. Ask God for his help. Decide ahead of time when this conversation with God will take place. Know yourself and be realistic. For instance, as much as I wish I could end my day with prayer, as soon as I remotely begin to relax, I immediately fall asleep. I’ve considered a midday prayer, but I get distracted by everything in the day. However, when my kids were infants and toddlers, midday during their nap time was the only chance I had for scheduled time with God. Now that my kids are older and I am back at work, I choose morning to pray, when my mind is clear, and I can enjoy a cup of coffee with the Lord. Once I got into this habit however, it was so fruitful I yearned for more time with the Lord but struggled to get up earlier; the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak (cf. Matthew 26:41). So, when day light savings time began and I had to adjust my body to staying up later and getting up later, I decided to stay on the same schedule instead and the extra time for prayer was immediately available!
Next step, read a spiritual book about the faith. Unlike fiction or pop culture, spiritual books are best read a few pages at a time and may take a year or more to complete. A good book about the faith should inspire a movement of love and reflection in your heart and spur contemplation. Don’t get caught up in the progress of pages as much as the progress of personal transformation.
Praying with Scripture is always a great idea. You could read through a book of the bible, especially the Gospels, a chapter or so at a time. You could also read the daily readings for the Mass and reflect on the Gospel of the day. I find tremendous divine providence in these passages. You can go to usccb.org and click on the calendar on the right-hand side of the page to see the readings for the day. You could also pray with the psalms or even pray the Liturgy of the Hours.
Finally, if possible, try to set aside 5 minutes of silence with the Lord into your day. Lots of distractions will fill your mind but gently push them away and try to make 5 minutes of space for being in the presence of the Lord and listening.
Personally, I like to end prayer with 5 minutes of silence. I set a timer on my phone so I don’t have to check the clock. Other times, spiritual reading moves my heart and I pause in the middle of it for the 5 minutes.
Like building any new habit, you will have to make your own prudential decisions about what merits exceptions, versus the slippery slope of letting other things edge out your time with God. I have experienced both. For instance, when I would pray during my kids’ nap time I often felt pulled by the long list of things that needed to get done. I could easily excuse skipping prayer for doing dishes or cleaning up by considering my work as prayer. Although our work is prayerful if offered to God, actual time alone with the Lord is irreplaceable and a higher priority. On the other hand, I have also encountered situations where I was up all night with sick kids or unavoidable extra work at my job or in works of mercy that presented themselves. On those mornings I sometimes had to cut into my prayer time to get the necessary sleep I knew I needed to function for the Lord the next day. I try to be prayerfully prudent though to make sure I’m not letting other things come before prayer and try to say no to things that would interfere. Even on mornings I get a little extra sleep I make sure I still retain some time for prayer and not skip it altogether.
Don’t be afraid to adjust your new year’s resolutions to your current state in life. Things change from year to year, which makes Advent a perfect time to consider where you are now and what your next steps should be. Some periods of life are very peaceful, and you can plan structured times for prayer and methodically work on building needed virtues. Other times you may feel like you are in survival mode and leaning on the Lord takes a different form for the time being as you are in the trenches together. Whatever you decide, make the decision with Christ and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. Reach out to fellow Christians and accept the support of others and of grace. In this way, whenever Christ comes, He will find you ready – reaching for him.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to show you where you need to grow.
- How might you grow deeper in prayer?
- How might you develop more virtuous habits?
- How might you be more Christ-like toward others?
- Consider past spiritual resolutions you have made. How have they born fruit in your life? Reflect on the effort it took to begin them and how they grew to become a
- Where do you need more balance? What undermines higher priorities? How might you put boundaries on those things to keep your priorities better aligned?
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
- Make one prayer resolution. Decide when, how, and what you will do to deepen your prayer
- Make one virtue resolution. Identify one way you would like to better imitate Christ and make a daily plan to grow in that
- Make one detachment resolution. Choose one vice or sin to overcome. Ask others to keep you accountable about it, pray daily for grace to overcome it, and practice the opposite virtue.