Advent Reflection Series #4

Where could you use simplicity in your life?

Usually, I try to keep things simple. I have a relatively new car with a lot of nice electronic features, but I don’t use any of them because they complicate things. If the car drives, it’s good enough. I don’t use any software beyond Microsoft Word while I’m writing because to learn it would be to make something that already works for me (a regular document) very complicated and therefore frustrating. At work, they’re trying to make us learn all these different editing software programs, and to be honest, I couldn’t care less because it makes my job more complicated. I don’t want to waste time checking behind the software to make sure it didn’t create errors.

But that’s not to say I couldn’t use even more simplicity. Right now I’m looking around the apartment, which is filled with baby stuff and Christmas stuff and writing stuff and books, and I’m getting overwhelmed because it’s a lot. Material things, as useful and as necessary as they are, tend to complicate, and I like as few of them as possible. If there are tons of things lying around, and my desk and counter and kitchen table and closet are cluttered, then my brain is cluttered too.

Too cluttered to fit God in.

I’ve always thought that God appeared to more people “back in the day” because their lives were simpler and they had more time, fewer “things,” and therefore more opportunity to encounter him. They could focus on God rather than figuring out the latest gadget or rushing to the store to buy a ton of Christmas presents that are ultimately unnecessary. Their minds were less cluttered. It’s almost the same way with people who have “simple” minds, like children. They are closer to God because their minds are uncomplicated by all the “stuff” in the world.

So as we get ready for Christmas, it might be better to take some time to de-clutter our minds… or de-clutter our spaces so we can de-clutter our minds. As one of the cards I got from a baby shower said, “Babies don’t take up mushroom.” Neither will the baby Jesus, so all we need is a little sliver of space. It might make all the difference.


The Difficulty of Giving Up

Sometimes getting presents is my least favorite part of Christmas. That sounds really strange, I know, but I remember when I was a little kid, after opening all the presents and sitting in the living room amid torn-up wrapping paper, watching my brother race off to install whatever latest PC game he’d just unboxed.

That was it. From my childlike point of view, Christmas was over. There were no other presents to be opened. We’d already gone to Mass the previous night, so all that remained was to enjoy the day at home… with Mom, Dad, my brother, and my presents. But that joyous excitement was all gone. I mean, I wasn’t a total brat. I knew the “reason for the season” and the meaning behind it all. But the commercial expectation is that Christmas is about presents: what you can afford to give and what you get. Society’s message is a hard one to shake.

When I got older and people asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I’d tell them that I didn’t want anything or that I wanted chocolate, which is consumable, so it wouldn’t be sitting around for too long. I wouldn’t have to worry too much about finding a space for it in my house or my bedroom. Then at some point in the week after Christmas, I would bring stuff I didn’t need, want, or use anymore to Goodwill. I’d clean up everything in preparation for the blank slate of the new year.

The “stuff” doesn’t really matter to me, but sometimes it is hard to get rid of old things because you are reminded of the people who gave them to you—and that is my reasoning for my attachment to “things.” I have no use at all for a cheap plastic mirror, but when my hand hovers over the Goodwill pile ready to drop it in, I picture the face of the sweet lady who gave it to me and the particulars of that Christmas during which I received the gift.

So “giving” and “getting” are about the people and the memories, not the objects. It is easier to give up something I bought for myself than to give up something that someone else got for me. When all the presents are opened and we spend time with the ones who gave them to us, it is those people we need to be thankful for, not the material objects that are only physical representations of how much those people love and care for us.


Angels Singing

Advent was here and gone in less time than it took to blink. Before I knew it, we were lighting the last candle on the wreath, and the Mass schedule for Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Year’s was printed in the parish bulletin. It didn’t feel like there was a lot of time to build up Christmas spirit, especially with it being 75 degrees and pouring rain this entire week.

But this Advent, I’ve restricted myself to listening to only Christmas music because there’s nothing worse than waking up three days before one of the most sacred holidays of the year with the latest piece of Top 40 awfulness stuck in your head. Much better to constantly be humming along to “O Come All Ye Faithful” or “The First Noël.”

So I was looking at the lyrics of “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” which was written in 1849, and realized that the world hasn’t much changed. With human nature being the way it is, you can’t expect it to. Every year, it’s the same thing: human beings are too caught up in all the noise to focus on the angels singing, and it seems like every year, the holidays get more frantic and hurried. The commercials get more insistent, Christmas decorations appear in stores earlier and earlier, pop stars keep destroying traditional Christmas hymns, and in all the rush, we don’t actually hear anything.

I think peace and quiet would make an excellent Christmas gift, but there is not normally a way to achieve that unless someone gives you an all-expenses-paid trip to a deserted island or offers to babysit your kids for a week. Almost always, nobody will, so we have to carve out our own small slice of time (maybe a half hour, maybe even a whole hour, if you’re lucky) away from all the stress and craziness so we can get some perspective on our lives and the world.

Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!