Category: Spiritual Practice

Sabbath Notecards: Helping Families Rest – (Spiritual Practice) #FaithfulFamilies

Sabbath, to rest. Rest. Rest. So many of the parents I know are desperate for rest. Incidentally, rest isn’t the same as sleep. One can be well rested on very little sleep. Conversely, one can get many hours of sleep and still not feel rested. True rest comes from a sense of peace and calm and sabbath. Sabbath is the opportunity to reflect, recharge and renew. Often people use the metaphor of a cup filled with water to represent Spiritual well being – one can not help fill the cup of others if her own cup is empty. This is as true in parenting as it is in ministry.  Sabbath keeping for parents can be a challenge. As my friend Nicole, a family therapist writes, many of us make excuses for why we don’t have time for self care or Sabbath. We’ve got deadlines, and busy lives. Children have needs around the clock. That said, developing a routine of Sabbath is so important to spiritual well being and health.

The Sabbath Practice in Faithful Families uses Sabbath Notecards. In order to help families save time on this practice, I made printable notecards to download and use. They can be downloaded HERE.

It’s easy to use them, just print out the one minute Sabbath Cards on a different colored paper from the five minute Sabbath Cards. When your family has time for a short rest, choose either a One Minute Sabbath Card or a Five Minute Sabbath Card and do what it says.

Use them regularly and come up with your own ideas for for one and five minute Sabbath!

As I was revisiting these and typing them out for the notecards it occurred to me that many of these activities are geared for older children and parents. Five minutes of silence, for example, is a definite “yeah, not going to happen” for preschool families. Start small, though, and work your way up. Enjoy these Sabbath Notecards! I look forward to hearing how your Sabbath practices develop.

For Further Reading: Sabbath in the Suburbs, A Family’s Experiment With Holy Time

 

5 Advent Calendar Ideas that Focus on Family Time, Kindness and Service

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there’s a part of me that really thinks the best Advent Calendar idea is something that gives the child a toy every day. I’m particularly eying the Lego City calendar, the Plamobil calendar, and the Thomas the Train calendar. They’re cool, right? Getting a toy every day from the first day of advent through Christmas sounds pretty fun, and magical. I had some years like that where I got a treat every day, and it was fun. Some year, I think I’ll do one of these toy based advent calendars for my boys. I don’t think they’re all bad. (Side bar: If someone wants to buy me an adult version like this one or this one, I will definitely not complain.) That said, I really want advent to be a time for family and kindness and togetherness, and I know a lot of minister friends want that for their congregations, too, so here are five advent calendar ideas that de-emphasize gifts and buying.

paperchain

  1. Traditional advent chain.  I made one where each “link” on the chain has a very simple advent activity related to the advent themes of hope, peace, joy and love. Very easy and fun. You can buy it here for your family for $4, or you can get a license that will permit you to print up a whole bunch of them for a school or congregation here. OR, if you don’t want to buy one, you could take the idea and run with it. Make up your own activities, write them on the paper chain and you’re in business. One final way to use the paper chain is to not have it be connected to any activities, simply start with 25 links and take one away each day until Christmas. So easy!

actsofkindness

2. Acts of kindness advent calendar. Each day has an ornament with a very simple act of kindness on it. You can make this yourself by making different shapes and coming up with an act of kindness for your family to do each day, or you can buy one here (also available for churches).

3. A “reverse” advent calendar — Instead of getting something each day, try giving something each day. This idea has been floating around the internet since last year, and I think it’s great. The original idea was to put a food item in a basket each day and give them all to the food pantry at the end of advent. A similar idea might be to collect toys or clothes or other goods each day and donate at the end of advent.

adventbooks

4. Advent Books Calendar – This is the one my family is going to do this year. We have 15 Christmas books already I’ll need to either borrow or buy ten more and then I’ll wrap them up and number them to read each day. I think this is a great option for those who have a lot of Christmas books. I could see it being a neat tradition year after year as children get used to the books. In a couple of weeks I’ll be reviewing one of the neatest and most exciting books in our stash Christmas Love Letters from God, written by an author friend, Glenys Nellist. If you have any “must read” children’s advent books, I’d love to hear about them so I can buy or borrow for our advent! Tell me about them in the comments or on Facebook!

5. Jesse Tree – Jesse trees tell the Christian story from creation through to Jesus’ birth with ornaments hung on a tree and a devotional to go with them. There are endless variations of them. One year I’ll pick my favorite and talk about it in detail, but if this is a route you want to go, I’d suggest browsing all of the ideas on Etsy. There are completed Jesse tree ornaments complete with the guides that you can purchase as well as much more affordable and simple patterns for making your own or printing them out.

 

 

 

Making Time and Space For Gratitude

rainbow

Walking through Target and the grocery store this week, I’ve noticed something: Thanksgiving seems to be missing from the shelf. Pumpkins and ghost napkins are 50% off, and the empty space that’s left is being filled with stockings and gingerbread. Out with goblins and pumpkins, in with Santa and stockings.

On the one hand, this is rather refreshing. After all, it’s kind of nice that Thanksgiving gets to slide in under the radar of “things you need to buy in order to celebrate.” On the other hand, it feels like the culture simply can’t be bothered with a culture centered around gratitude. There’s a lesson in there. If we want to foster a practice of gratitude, we’ll have to work to make it happen.We can’t just pick it up and put it in the cart, we’ll have to do some actual work.

November is a great month to focus on gratitude. Not only is Thanksgiving toward the end of the month, but the culture seems to be dumping glitter and evergreens on us, even if we’re not ready. Focusing on gratitude in November provides a slowing rhythm to our days. It gives us the opportunity to say “Not yet… not yet…” to all the twinkle lights and jingle bells.

There are many ways to incorporate gratitude in to the month of November (or, frankly, any month) but one of the easiest and most important is to simply ask “What am I thankful for?” Ask your friends or your spouse or children. Be surprised at what they say. We rotate family prayers at dinnertime and one of them is “Let’s all go around and say one thing we are thankful for.” Our oldest son, Clayton (age 5) often chooses that one. Last week when he did, his four year old brother said “I’m thankful that kids have kid scissors.” I asked what made him think of that and he said “I don’t know, I just like them.”

November starts in three days. Ready to take the challenge? 

 

 

 

When We’re All On Edge: 4 Spiritual Practices for Election Season

Is it just me, or are we all on edge lately? We have a lot to be overwhelmed about. This is a very tense election season. The stakes are high. Everyone has an opinion they’re trying to boil down to 140 characters and a bumper sticker. People are talking past each other, calling each other names, un-friending, making threats If you vote for him I will unfriend you. If you vote for her, don’t expect to see me at Thanksgiving dinner. It’s loud.  As one who loves to help children and families find moments of peace and rest in their busy lives, I feel like my role in the conversation is to simply knock on the door and say “Hey there. Take a deep breath. (Thanks to my son’s Pre-K teacher we call them ‘belly breathes’ in my family.) Use kind words. Give each other a hug. It will all be ok.”

If you, like me, are feeling tense and overwhelmed this election season as words and insults and articles are being flung to and fro, I invite you to take a look at one of these 4 spiritual practices. See where it leads.

The Spiritual Practice of Media and Electronics Fasting: Fasting from media and electronics is the fasting of our age. As I write this, I’m sitting at the “charging station” in the airport. It’s jam packed in here as we all crowd around the precious electrical outlets, making sure we can be connected, always. I understand, truly. It’s good (and feels normal) to be informed and connected. Still, we feel over-saturated at times, and need to simply unplug, take a break, turn it down. I think the New Testament advice about fasting (as it, in that time, applied to fasting from food) is great advice “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others, but by your Father who is in secret. And when your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  Matthew 6:16-18. In other words, it’s not necessary to announce your fasting to the entire world, nor is it necessary to judge or look down on others who aren’t fasting. Fasting is personal. Fasting requires discernment. Nobody can tell you how to fast or for how long, or what to do, but a good spiritual director, pastor or friend might have some guidance. Try fasting for a day, or a few days, or a week. Perhaps fast from certain devices or certain social networks. Notice how you feel and what you learn. Journal. Take notes. See what God does through the fasting. Just like fasting from food, it might be uncomfortable or challenging, but it’s in that discomfort that wisdom and spiritual discernment can break forth. See what it’s like to be disconnected for awhile.

The Spiritual Practice of Face-To-Face Conversation With Friends: It bugs me when folks say “Why don’t people get off line and have a real conversation with their real friends?” I think that’s a misunderstanding of social media and relationship. I’ve had conversations and friendships deepened and strengthened (and even begun) via social media and the internet. I don’t think that a conversation, just because it happens online is not a “real” friendship, and I don’t believe that a conversation, just because it’s online, can’t be meaningful. At the same time, there’s something truly gained from all the things that happen when we have conversations face-to-face with people we trust. Eye contact. Body language. Tone. Hugs. Perhaps especially when the conversation is centered around deep issues like politics and elections we need the nuance that comes from that face-to-face interaction. I would argue that Skype or other forms of video chat are the “next best thing.”

The Spiritual Practice of Sabbath: There’s a difference between fasting and Sabbath. Sabbath is the practice of incorporating a regular rhythm in to our days, weeks and years. Sabbath is a chunk of time dedicating to rest and renewal. I’ve written about mini-sabbaths before, and this is a great way to regroup when the world is overwhelming.

The Spiritual Practice of Listening: Look. We know we have a problem. We know we’re listening to people who agree with us and making blanket statements about people who have opposing views. We know we do it, but we don’t know what to do. We need to listen. Less talking, more listening. The best people to listen to are those who are not shouting. I’d also argue it makes good sense to start listening to those with whom you already have a good relationship or friendship. Three tips to becoming an excellent listener:

  • 1. Remember that the person to whom you are listening is a child of God, was a little baby once and will be an old, frail person one day. Just like you.
  • 2. Be curious and ask clarifying questions as you seek to understand someone else’s point of view. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk.
  • 3. Be nice. Don’t call people names or hurt their feelings. Your kindergarten teacher taught you this.

Listening. Sabbath. Conversation. Fasting. We need more of these… agreed?

How to Help Your Grandchildren Grow In Faith: Ideas for Grandparents

 

I’m speaking about faith practices and families this week at Mo Ranch in Hunt, Texas. I’m half-way through the workshops (two down, two to go!) but one of the things that I’ve found so far is the same thing I find nearly every time I present about faith practices and children: a lot of grandmothers show up.  They tell me the same things, these faithful grandmas:

  • “I am the person who is present to pass on faith to my grandchildren, I want them to grow in faith and I need some ideas.”
  • “My children don’t go to church, but they don’t seem opposed to the idea that I would share faith with the grandchildren.”
  • “I want to share my faith with my grandchildren, but I’m worried about crossing a boundary or interfering somehow.”

Grandmas (and grandpas too!) I have excellent news for you: I have a TON of ideas to help you pass on your faith to your grandchildren in ways that are easy, respectful of your children, and create memories that will help your grandchildren to understand and love the faith you so want to share with them. Keep reading! 

  1. Be the initiator (or guardian) of tradition for your family. Grandparents and tradition go together like peanut butter and jelly! So many among us remember how every year grandma and grandpa would (fill in the blank). Create a tradition with your grandchildren that you stick to as much as you possibly can. Perhaps your tradition is to take the grandchildren to church on particular holidays or to say a special prayer with them before every meal. My book, Seamless Faith has traditions for every day and traditions for Holy Days (holidays) that you will want to use. Whatever tradition you choose, make it your own.  Traditions should be memorable, they should be simple, and they should happen frequently.
  2. Make faith connections with your grandchildren about the things you already do with them.  Do you go out and look at stars with your grandchildren at night? Take the opportunity to talk to them about how God made the stars and the world and everything in it. Do you have bird feeders outside? Let your grandchildren fill them up and talk to them about how important it is to take care of God’s creatures. Do you cook or bake with your grandchildren? Make extra goodies and take them to folks who need them, explaining to your grandchildren that you do this because you believe it’s important to care for others. Your grandchildren will get the message, I promise. It’s not necessary to have a separate “faith time” with your grandchildren, just weave it in to what you are already doing!
  3. Provide faith connections with your grandchildren during key transition moments in their lives. In the book, I call these “ceremonies” but you can call them rituals, or celebrations, or whatever you like! Find a way to “mark the moment” with your grandchildren in a way that honors faith. Perhaps it is the first day of school and you’d like to honor that moment with a remembrance that God is with your grandchildren wherever they go. The same is true of graduation, or the birth of a new grandchild. Ceremonies can also be valuable with your grandchildren when they experience hard times. Be there for them when they are anxious, lose a pet, or have to deal with the hard current events stories they are sometimes faced with.
  4. Think creatively about spiritual practices that you can teach your grandchildren. Often when we think about spiritual practices to practice with our grandchildren, we remember prayers and meals or bedtime. This is great, but there are so many other spiritual practices we can use, too. Again, if you’re not interested in coming up with your own, you can use the ones I lay out in Seamless Faith, some examples are: creative prayer, imagination, and meditation. There are also plenty of ancient spiritual practices that speak to children today. Things like the daily examen, the labyrinth and lectio divina can all be used with your grandchildren.

A lot of times people ask me some variation of this question: I raised my children in the faith, but they don’t go anymore. How can I get them to take the grandchildren to church?  

This is a tough one, and certainly something that I hear a lot. Each family situation is unique, but I have a few “dos and don’ts” that grandparents I’ve talked to have found to be helpful:

  • DON’T say things that inspire guilt or drive a wedge between your children and you. 
  • DO talk with your children respectfully and with genuine curiosity about why they’re not interested in church. Perhaps you will find that there is something about the theology in which your children were raised that doesn’t seem to fit with what they believe now. Many children who were raised in the 70s, 80s and 90s found that when they became adults, the faith of their parents was too judgmental, too exclusive, too difficult to relate to. They need sympathetic ears who will listen to the kind of faith they are looking to embrace. There are plenty of faith communities out there that are daring to reimagine faith and Christianity, but a lot of people don’t know where to look, or how to start.
  • DO share your faith in ways that are natural and not preaching. St. Francis of Assisi’s most famous quote is, arguably, this: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” Your grandchildren and children will continue to remember how important your faith is to you when they see how it affects the way you life your life. When I learned how to crochet, my brother said “Yeah, I remember how grandma used to crochet those little hats for babies in the hospital. I always thought that was really cool.” I never knew she did that, but clearly it had a profound impact on my brother.
  • DO ask your adult children how they feel about your incorporating your faith stories or activities with your grandchildren. If you say “I would love to make a bird feeder with the children and talk to them about how God cares for the earth, is that ok?” your children are likely to say “Yes! That sounds great!”
  • DON’T tell your grandchildren everybody must believe the same way you do. One of the number one reasons hear from parents of young children who have decided to stay away from the church is that they feel the church is too closed-minded and is not open to a diversity of opinions. Even if you have strong beliefs about right and wrong, your children and grandchildren may not. It will help you to maintain a strong relationship with your family if you are clear that you are sharing your beliefs and do not expect them to think exactly the same way you do.
  • DO provide unconditional love and acceptance of your children and grandchildren, no matter what. 

Interested in resources that you might want to use with your grandchildren to help them grow in faith? I have some ideas about those too!

  • Here, again, is a link to my book Seamless Faith. It has 50 easy to use traditions, ceremonies and spiritual practices. I’d say about 1/2 (or more!) of the people who buy this book are grandparents.
  • Would you like to have a grandma “faith jar” on your counter? You can get the resource here. It’s 48 different faith practices that you cut in to strips. Each time you are together with your grandchildren, pick out a practice from the jar, and do what it says!
  • My favorite Children’s Bible is the Children of God Storybook Bible   I also recommend the books God’s Paintbrush, In God’s Name and Love Letters From God.

Grandparents: What ideas do you have about sharing your faith with your grandchildren? I’d love to hear them below! Also, what questions can I address in a future post? 

 

 

New Printables!

familyfaithjar3

I’m so excited to be offering two new printables, one for family use, and one for personal use. The Faith Jar is easy to use… here are the instructions:

Designed for Ages 5 +

Materials: This printable, a glass jar & scissors

Time Investment: Varies, but most of these practices can be done in 5-10 minutes, depending on the size of your family

How to:

Make the Jar:

• Print out the practices and cut along the lines in between each of them
• Shuffle the practices and put them in the jar

Use the Practices:

1. Decide when your family will go through the practices. Some times that seem to work for families: at dinner, before bed, or once a week (Saturday Mornings, for example).
2. Each time your family decides to use the faith activities jar, one person will take a practice from the jar and read it (pre-readers can select the practice and have someone else read it.)
3. Take turns answering the question or doing what the card suggests.
4. Put the used card in a drawer until you’ve gone through all 48 cards, then replenish the jar.

Notes
1. In the photo, you’ll notice that the practices are different colors. I did this so that each practice type (mindfulness, gratitude, questions about God, and prayer) were different colors. Choose how you’d like to make your own jar!
2. Try to encourage family members to not read the cards in advance — just dive in and choose!
3. Don’t give up on this activity! Some questions will resonate with your family more than others.

Variations
1. Make a family faith basket or box instead of a jar!
2. Take turns writing your own practices and adding them to the mix.
3. Instead of taking the practices out after you use them, add them back in to the jar, knowing that you might have some repetition.

GET THE PRINTABLE HERE

goodmorningworld2

The Good Morning World Printable is something that I’m really excited to offer for a personal reason: It’s based off of my own process for starting my day during times of high stress or anxiety. When I’m stressed or worried I need to start my day focused, calm, and with a clear sense of purpose. Oh yeah, and I need to somehow accomplish this in less than ten minutes. I tried a variety of different formats and decided on this one. It does the following:

  • Check in on how you’re feeling
  • A place to lay down three challenges or worries
  • A place to write down five reasons to be thankful
  • A place to set a daily intention

Notice that there are three challenges and five reasons to be thankful. This is HUGE… It helps me to remember that there’s always more reasons to be thankful than to worry. Research supports the benefits of being thankful and remembering gratitude.

GET THE PRINTABLE HERE 

Do you want to know about these printables before anyone else and get coupon codes for them? Of course you do! Sign up for the newsletter! Yay!

Practicing Sabbath for One, Three or Five Minutes — 30 Ideas

minisabbath4

One of the most helpful things anyone ever said to me about Sabbath keeping is that Sabbath keeping should be thought of in terms of smaller parts of a larger whole. Just as we strive to take a Sabbath day out of our week, perhaps we can take a Sabbath week out of our year. Maybe a Sabbath year out of our decade, or even a Sabbath decade (or two) out of our lives.

We can take this the other way, too. Throughout the course of our weeks, we can take a Sabbath hour out of our day, or maybe a Sabbath minute, or minutes out of an hour.

It’s these “mini Sabbaths” that I’m interested in during this season of life. Though I strive to take a Sabbath day out of the week, sometimes I’m not able to do it. When I can’t, I strive even harder to take mini-Sabbaths throughout the other days of the week. I take mini breaks throughout the day to center myself and refocus. Sometime I’ll post about Sabbath practices that last 15, 30, 45 or 60 minutes, but for now, I want us to start really easy. Here are Sabbath ideas that take only one, three, and five minutes. I hope you find something you can use!

One Minute Sabbath

  1. Sit in a comfortable position and breathe deeply in and out. As you breathe in say to yourself “I am breathing in God’s love” as you breathe out say “I am breathing out worry and fear.”
  2. Do the “teacup prayer.”
  3. Get some wonderful and luxurious hand lotion or scrub and nurture your hands with meaning and purpose. Enjoy the way the water feels on your hands and the smell.
  4. Go outside at night and look up at the sky. Notice if there are stars or if it’s cloudy. Take a deep breath.
  5. Read a Psalm
  6. Massage your tired eyes.
  7. Do one minute of alternate nostril breathing. (It will take more than one minute to learn, but once you learn, you can practice for one minute.)
  8. Write down 3 things you are grateful for
  9. Set your timer for one minute and close your eyes. Count how many sounds you hear.
  10. Rub an ice cube on your wrists or behind your ears. Notice how you feel

Three Minute Sabbath 

  1. Laugh for a couple of minutes
  2. Doodle for three minutes or color
  3. Memorize a Bible verse. Like this one or this one  
  4. Light a candle and sit in its light for three minutes. Spend one minute thinking about (or writing) prayers of joy, one minute thinking about (or writing) concerns and one minute thinking about (or writing) prayers of gratitude. Blow out the candle and feel your requests being lifted up to God.
  5. Watch the time run out of an egg timer
  6. Blow bubbles. Seriously. Get a bottle of bubbles and watch them fall to the ground.
  7. Make a paper butterfly
  8.  Try a body prayer
  9. Set the timer for two minutes and thirty seconds and write down every single worry that you have. Put it in a box or bury it. Come back to it in a week and see what’s still there.
  10. Listen to the Prelude of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1

Five Minute Sabbath 

  1. Read a short poem. I find Mary Oliver, Ann Weems, and Madeleine L’Engle particularly inspiring.
  2. Close your eyes and listen to this instrumental version of the doxology  or this musical version of Psalm 46 (or any other five minute piece of music that inspires you!)
  3. Sit in silence and drink a small glass of ice water. Don’t do anything else.
  4. Do five minutes of yoga 
  5. Write someone a thank you note or email
  6. Try a finger labyrinth like this one or this one
  7. Put some essential oils in an aromatherapy diffuser and sit in silence, noticing the smell
  8. Take a five minute walk
  9. Prepare the dough for artisan bread (to be baked later)
  10. Look out the window at birds or look at a fish tank

 

 

It’s Here! It’s Here! 2016 Family Practices Calendar!

Lentenpractices2016SAMPLEFINAL

Back for 2016, the wildly popular Lenten Practices Family Calendar! Families loved this calendar last year, and this year it’s available for $1.00 for personal use. See other listings for church use.

The activities on the calendar are based around the “3 Pillars” of Lent. Prayer [P], Fasting [F] and Almsgiving/Service [S]. The pillars are rotated throughout lent with simple activities. On the prayer days, use the word provided to inspire a prayer you write, draw, or sing. All of the activities are suggestions. Modify them for your own family. © Traci Smith, 2016. All rights reserved.

There are some notable changes with the calendar this year.

1. Based on feedback from last year, there are no fasting activities on Sunday, in accordance with Roman Catholic Tradition. (Note: severe restriction of food is *not* the type of fasting recommended in these activities, they are much milder, such as refraining from sweets for a day, or similar.)

2. This calendar includes a coupon code for FREE SHIPPING for my book, Seamless Faith, from Chalice Press.

Please see last year’s calendar for an example of the kinds of activities included. This calendar is very similar, has some duplications from last year, but also has plenty of new material to keep it fresh and interesting.

Get it here

Day Four: Destination #NPCAdvent2015 #advent

 

npcadventTMSDestination

Today’s Prompt: Write about a time when you failed to reach your destination.

Solvitur ambulando is a Latin phrase that means it is solved by walking.  For so many of the problems we face in life, be they physical, mental or spiritual: solvitur ambulandoI think this is one of the reasons I love walking the labyrinth so much. The labyrinth is a walk that has three parts: walking toward the center, sitting in the center, and walking out. The shape of the labyrinth is strange but wonderful. The walk takes you near the center, far outside it and back to the middle, several times. One must focus only on the steps immediately in front, otherwise it doesn’t make sense.

I’ve walked many labyrinths and come away with different insight each time. Sometimes the insight comes right away, sometimes it comes days later. Most of the time the simple process of walking the labyrinth is meaningful…solvitur ambulando.  

They mystery of the labyrinth is, for me, in the process of walking. The destination is unclear, the journey is the destination.

I’m on a retreat with my family through tomorrow, so I’ll leave it here for today. See you tomorrow to talk about restore. 

To learn more about labyrinths go HERE.

This post is a part of the 25 days of advent writing and photos that I’m doing with my church Northwood Presbyterian Church, San Antonio. For the writing portion, I’ve just set a timer for 20-30 minutes and whatever I have at the end of the time, I post. No editing past the time limit… no worries if there are errors or if I stare at the screen for the first 15 minutes. Giving it a try. 

Fasting During Advent: A Spiritual Practice

adventfast.jpg

Crying in the Toilet Paper Aisle

Last year during advent I went to the grocery store to get toilet paper. Doesn’t seem like something I’d remember a year later, except for the fact that I know began to cry, right there in front of the toilet paper. I can’t remember what the underlying sadness was about, but I do remember the tears began to flow when “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” started playing really, really loud. It was late at night, probably 10 p.m., and there was nobody else around. It was me, the absurd number of toilet paper choices and Mr. Holly Jolly, on full blast.  Instant tears.

I don’t know exactly how many people for whom this story might resonate, but I suspect I’m not the only one. The holidays are challenging for a lot of people, and for a lot of different reasons. For some there are feelings of loss and grief as we remember loved ones who aren’t around. Some are far from family and wish to be near. Some are near to family that is constantly fighting. Sometimes there are additional work or social obligations that pile up and pile on. For some it’s a time of financial strain. Whatever the reason, I don’t think we talk about it enough. I think we do what I did last year when I was crying in front of the toilet paper. We take a deep breath, buy the toilet paper, and muddle through.

But what if there’s a better way?

For Christians, advent is the time leading up to Christmas. It starts this Sunday, November 29th and ends on Christmas Day. Theologically, it’s a time of waiting and preparing for the Christ child to be born anew in our hearts.

Though the culture wants advent to bright and loud, we can make it dark and quiet if we need to.

We can look at advent just like we look at lent: a time to get serious about what these seasons mean theologically.  

To do this, we need to be critical thinkers and questioners. This is different than being cynical or saying “bah humbug!” One question we might ask is is that true?  I saw an ad for diamonds that said something like “Give her the best Christmas ever.” For a fleeting moment I thought “What if I lived the type of life where my husband gave me diamonds for Christmas? I would love that!” And then I thought is that true?

All that glitters isn’t gold. All that sparkles isn’t love.

I’m starting to wonder if Christians need to think seriously about fasting during advent, just as we do during lent. If this appeals to you, I’m going to give some suggestions for types of fasts that might be useful. Let’s give them a try and report back. Let’s see if we can make advent a meaningful time of waiting for the light of the world without resorting to crying in front of the toilet paper. Here are some ideas. Do you have more?

Fast from Buying Gifts You Don’t Want to Buy

Instead of gadgets and plastic and trinkets, thoughtful notes and cards. Homemade artwork. A poem. I’ve never given or received a gift like this and felt bad about it. What if you said to your friends, “Let’s share a cup of tea (glass of wine, bottle of beer, bowl of soup) and laugh for an hour? It will be our gift to one another.” I imagine it would be one of the best gifts you could hope to receive. Gift giving isn’t bad or wrong. It’s a great way to teach children about empathy don’t think about what you want, think about what grandma would like. I’m not suggesting that everyone say no gifts ever to anyone. I am suggesting, though, that we fast from the obligatory gift giving, the giving that doesn’t bring joy, the giving that feels like work. Let it go.

Fast from Social Media (In part or altogether)

There’s a wide range on thoughts about social media and I’m definitely not in the “eww, it’s evil” camp. I love social media. I feel connected to friends far away, I have conversations with clergy colleagues around the world. I get great ideas for artwork and sermon preparation. I’ve also experienced a calm and quiet when I’ve turned it off, only used it between certain hours or taken “social media free” days. Give it a try, maybe?

Fast from your Phone

iPhone users: “Do Not Disturb” is your friend. It’s a setting on your phone where you can set it to not ring, or buzz, or beep, or ding or anything. You can even set certain “favorites” who can get through in case of emergency. Every night at 9:30 I go through a process of setting my phone to “Do Not Disturb” and also setting each app that has banner notifications (in my case text, phone and gmail) to “no notifications.” That means if I check the time on my phone in the middle of the night, there are no texts waiting to be read, no emails staring at me, no missed calls. I turn it all on in the morning and figure out what I’ve missed. It was really hard the first week or two. Now it’s become a place of peace and rest. I know people can get me in an emergency. Freedom.

Another type of mini-fast for heavy phone users (like me). Put your phone far, far away for short periods of time when you’re doing something important, like talking with a friend or playing with your children. I put mine in another room or turn it off for 15 minutes, a 1/2 hour, an hour, four hours. (Four hours sometimes sends me in to cold sweats, but I’m working on it.) I can’t control nuclear launch codes from my cell phone, nobody needs me that badly. I’m redefining urgent. Maybe you are, too.

Maybe an advent fast would mean trying one of these two disciplines every day from the first of December until Christmas Day. Turn your phone off every night at a specified time, all month. Commit to one hour of no cell phone use every day so that you can replace it with something important: being with family, reading a novel, creating art.

Fast from TV

I’ll never forget a sermon I heard from John Ortberg where he said “Nobody sits down for a couple of hours of mindless TV watching and then gets up and says ‘Man, I feel great!‘ Everyone laughed, because we knew it’s true. TV is like a drug, sometimes. We zone out, we just sit there and pass the time. It’s not that we can’t ever watch TV, but we know when it’s getting unhealthy. After I had Clayton I went through this period of TV watching that I think was truly like some sort of addiction. I would get up to nurse him, flip on the TV and just sit there, zoned out and looking at nothing, for hours. The cure for me was the radio.

Fast from Unhealthy Habits 

Maybe advent is a time, just like lent, to think about what we’d like to give up or limit in order to gain something new. Maybe the person who most needs a gift this advent is you. I started to list off some of the unhealthy habits, but it looked judgmental. don’t know what’s unhealthy for you and what you need to limit or eliminate, but I know you do. Give yourself a gift.

Other Fasting 

Maybe some of these will spark your imagination as well:

  • Fast from putting yourself down (“I’m not doing enough at work or home or relationships”)
  • Fast from driving everywhere — Can you walk or bike or take a bus?
  • Fast from paper products or excess trash
  • Fast from eating out or driving through

The point of fasting during advent is not on what you’re giving up, it’s on what you’re gaining.

So, the time with the phone in the other room is time to focus on something else. The money not spent on a gift can be given to a worthy cause, the smoothie instead of the donut helps show respect for your body. All of these things aren’t easy, they’re hard. They’re disciplines. Just like with lenten disciplines, they’re easier practiced in a community. Find a friend or partner and share what you’re giving up this advent. What do you have to lose? What do you have to gain? How will Christmas Day take on new meaning?