Karen writes :
Wherever you are in your Advent observance, don't despair if you can't do all that you'd like to do. Our traditions have been added in slowly, one by one, over the years .... Some years are more productive than others, depending on what else is happening in our lives. When there's a pregnancy, a newborn, an illness, or a major stress in our lives, Advent looks less than perfect around here. But, I'm happy to reassure you that my darling daughters have survived our less-than-perfect Advents, and can't even recall which ones they were. The slapdash glitter Jesse Tree was just as dear to them as any other year. What they remember is that we did it together, we laughed, we sparkled. We shared the joy of anticipating the birth of Jesus, our greatest gift.....However we say it, however we live it, may this Advent be for you what it is meant to be: a time of great anticipation and joy.Since our family is one who hasn't had a smooth Advent basically until this year, I wrote some thoughts on "Living Your Advent" on my other blog.
If you are one of those who gets drained and discouraged by the holiday season, perhaps because of haunting family memories or perhaps because of ongoing life difficulties, perhaps some of the tips at My Simpler Life will be helpful. One that rung with me was to keep a journal. My intention is to make my own Advent calendar -- write down what we did on what day, take pictures (I love my camera!!) and reflect about it. Next year, as Karen said, maybe I will add something more.
Another tip mentioned is to have a good support system. I think that perhaps one of the triggers to depression for some people at this time of year is that they see everyone busy, constructive and involved in their family lives. So for those who are in comfortable circumstances, and really, which of us aren't? maybe Advent is a good time to try to reach out to the people who are lonelier, more marginalized. My Simpler Life also has some ideas for Christmas Hospitality.
A long time ago I wrote: "Think of what you ARE doing, not what you're not." I bet most of us are doing more than we think. St Therese wrote that God is just as pleased with the hidden little violets as with the beautiful roses and lilies.
Here's a post I wrote way back in 1999 to someone who was getting overwhelmed with all the Advent prep and great ideas, because her life was very complicated with dealing with family circumstances. At the time I was living this too because my sixth child was barely post-transplant and had just had a major stroke and neurosurgery. We were living in San Francisco in a rented apartment, and didn't have any of our Christmas "stuff". Aidan needed about 14 medications several times a day and was G Tube fed, and I had to dribble in his calories and meds into him almost continuously because otherwise he would throw it all back up and I'd have to start all over again -- agonizing! (not to mention messy!) He was on oxygen and several monitors too. We ended up making paper ornaments and our extended family came to SF to be with us! It was one of the most meaningful Christmas seasons ever and yet we had nothing and DID nothing except live out what God had called us to. Anyway, this is what I wrote back then:
It seems to me you are doing a lot to live the meaning of Advent. The symbols and activities are just to prepare our minds and hearts to receive the infant Jesus and include Him in our lives. You are living out the meaning by being so willing to help out the members of your family even when you don't have much time or money to spare. I'm sure the lessons your children learn from this will stay in their minds and enrich the symbolic preparations next year, or whenever you are able to devote more time to doing them.
I understand being too tired and anxious even to concentrate on praying. I'm having trouble right now getting my family to have a prayer life, like you are, because so much else is going on. Maybe for you, just a simple offering up of your daily duties at the beginning of the day will give each act a spiritual dimension. Maybe you could remind your children to offer their joys and sorrows as gifts to the little Jesus. (Come to think of it, maybe I should remind *my* children of this too).
You mention that you keep telling yourself not to fall apart, because you feel you can't afford to. I noticed this in particular because several times over the last few months I have felt exactly the same way. I feel I'd like to fall apart, but how can I without bringing down every one who depends on me? When I am keeping my feelings inside this way, all my energy drains away. Everything seems to be grey. I have trouble responding even to well-intentioned people, and I feel like I am looking out from behind a wall -- or a sheet of ice.
I've found that when I get to feeling this way, that I need to fall apart, it is because I *do* need to fall apart. It doesn't work to hold it in, because the energy it takes ends up costing you and your loved ones. I think you are wise to vent to friends and supporters -- I've done this before and felt better for it. Sometimes I vent to my dh (who usually can't figure out what hit him ), and sometimes I call or email a dear friend who won't be overwhelmed by my torrent of emotion. Sometimes I just write in my diary or go to mass and cry all the way through! But the point is that to keep on going in the long term, sometimes you need to stop coping for at least a few minutes in the short term.
Finally -- I'm sorry to go on for so long -- I've been trying to think of Advent as a season of waiting and preparing for new beginnings. Sometimes when you are feeling desperate and burned out, it is helpful to sort of start from scratch.
Instead of always feeling harried about all that you are not doing, spend a few days being aware of all you are doing. If you see real lacks in your life, make a commitment to change -- but not yet. Instead, put the ideas on the back burner and use Advent as a time for reflection and spiritual renewal. Chances are that by the new millenium, you will be surprised at how much has already fallen into place, and what is still left undone, you will be able to approach with restored spirit because of the break.