Third Week of Advent: Prepare

Previously: Options, Intention

This year I’ve been thinking about Advent since July. It’s the first time in a few years that I’ve done this.

When I was a pastor, I’d say mid- to late summer was usually when I’d begin planning for it, if only in very small amounts. August or September would be when the first resource mailers focusing on Christmas would arrive at the church. September or October would be when I’d begin thinking about worship and sermon ideas, and when ministry teams would begin planning their December activities.

I haven’t had that routine, but I’ve had my Advent book to think about, along with ways to alert people to its existence. After the planning would come the rollout and eventually the release. So while I haven’t had to think about Advent as a pastor in a while, this year I did have to think about it as a writer.

It’s been a welcome callback, to my surprise. Most years such preparation would cause me stress, to the point where I needed to remind myself that this time of year was also mine to enjoy along with others.

But that joy was sometimes hard to identify. I’d always find it by Christmas morning, but some years it wouldn’t arrive before then.

The joy this year has been more steady, easier to discover. I’m thankful for that, and I hope this new trend sticks around for a long time.

If you enjoyed this reflection, check out my new Advent ebook, Four Weeks: Reflections for Advent.

Second Week of Advent: Intention

Previously: Options

When I was a pastor, it was easy for me to feel close to God.

I was immersed in the work of the church: administration, budgets, coordinating and planning activities, sitting in on meetings. I was a CEO in practice in many ways, and for me it varied between drudgery and fulfillment.

But of course I was also immersed in spiritual work: Bible study, prayer, writing liturgy and sermons, connecting the story of the wider world to God’s story, and encouraging others to connect their own stories to God’s story as well. And while doing all of that, I had plenty of opportunity to reflect on my own part in that story, too.

In my current role I have also had opportunity for that, but it hasn’t taken the same shape. Just as I’ve long discerned, I get to work alongside conference staff, ministers, and churches in their work, partnering with them in continuing to connect people’s stories with God’s.

I must confess that my own spiritual journey has depended on my own resolve in a way it didn’t in years prior. Naming such connection was more built in to my weekly routine, such that I didn’t need to be as mindful because it just happened. The field would be tilled, seeded, fertilized, and harvested through the natural rhythm of the seasons.

Now I need to remind myself what season we’re in; my work doesn’t do it for me like it used to. I confess that I’ve considered returning to local church ministry just so I’d have those built-in reminders again, but I know that this is not the answer. What I’ve really needed in this new chapter is to learn how to forge a connection between stories with greater awareness and intention.

The answer is not to rest discipleship with vocation, but to learn how the former may persist no matter where the latter goes.

And with that learning comes peace.

If you enjoyed this reflection, check out my new Advent ebook, Four Weeks: Reflections for Advent.

First Week of Advent: Options

What do you do when you’re not sure whether you’re meant to continue something that you’ve been doing for a long time? There are many answers to a question like this.

One is you just stop, and see how it feels. Depending on how frequently the practice is, you take a week off, or a month, or a year. You decide to live without it for a while, and then you pay attention to what happens internally when it’s no longer a part of your routine. Maybe you return later after you rediscover a love for it, or maybe you discover how much happier you are without it and never go back.

Another option is you push through, possibly past the point of your tolerance for it. If you somehow rediscover your energy and passion for it, then you celebrate that and keep on keeping on. Or you completely crash and burn, and then you never want to be associated with it ever again.

The third…is there a third option? I mean, another option would just be you keep doing it and enjoying it, which probably means you weren’t struggling about continuing. If you still like it, then discernment about making a change isn’t a very pressing need. Maybe you tweak your approach to keep things fresh, but that’s different from agonizing at the crossroad between continuation and abandonment.

I’ve been at several of these crossroads the past few years. The first was whether to continue in pastoral ministry. For this, I chose Option One. Ask again later whether the rediscovery part happens or not.

The second was this blog, or rather, whether to finally leave the old one behind and start this one. I’d been living through Option Two for a very long time and saw the burnout coming, so here we are.

The third, such as it is, is this annual series of Advent posts. I did this for a very long time, enough to be able to compile many of them into a book. And when that happened, I started to wonder if this had run its course. Maybe a new blog and a collection of past reflections means this should be done.

And yet, I wrote this, and you’re now reading it. I don’t think this is an Option Two scenario, or at least it doesn’t feel like one. It’s not inertia or habit or obligation that moved me to do this. I’ve just reached the point where it doesn’t feel like Advent unless I write these. This has become an integral part of my own movement through this time of year.

This series–the reflection, the act of writing, the entire experience–helps me find hope. This does for me what decorating, baking, caroling, and whatever else does for others.

Maybe that’s the fourth option: not doing it because you enjoy it, but because it’s become a part of you. So here I am, writing through the season, seeking hope in my own way.

If you enjoyed this reflection, check out my new Advent ebook, Four Weeks: Reflections for Advent.