This post is by guest writer, Jody Collins, and part of our Simplify The Season Holiday Blog Party.
Have you ever had to move house during the Christmas season? How much fun is that, eh? Several years ago our family participated in the journey to a new land during the holidays and I discovered something.
It’s impossible to celebrate a “normal” Christmas when your living room is crowded with moving boxes. That wasn’t my discovery. No. The good news I found was that surrendering my ideas of what Christmas “should” look like left space for God to surprise our family beyond what we
could imagine. I was forced to adjust to a new season as I viewed things, not as I dreamed they would be, but the way they were. My ideas of what-was- to-come- -a new home, settling in, making it my own– kept me going through those few months.
Oddly enough, as I looked around at our temporary rental, the empty walls and barely- furnished rooms greatly improved my mental state, making it easier to ‘see’ the future. Although I felt untethered and impatient, desperate to begin nesting in our new home, the emptiness created room for waiting.
The focus and intent of the Advent season is just that, providing space to wait—physically, spiritually and mentally—to celebrate the birth of Christ.
Maybe like me, your thoughts about Advent are tied to those consumer-driven Advent calendars, the ones that start on December 1 st . Actually, the first day of Advent is different and changes every year; this year it’s December 3 rd .
I was recently surprised to learn that Advent was originally a period of fasting in preparation for the feast of the Nativity (now Christmas) and was practiced in some form as early as 400 A.D. Unfortunately for us, Advent as a season of fasting and reflection has all but disappeared from many church landscapes. Advent has been defined, instead, as the number of shopping/party/activity days there are until Christmas, and thus, our gift-driven Advent ‘calendars.’
The practice of fasting seems like a shocking suggestion prior to the rich celebration of Christmas. But it makes sense when you think about it. Letting go, putting off or making room for one thing makes space for something else. Like the empty walls in my new rental house, extra space can help us “see” better without all the distractions. When the too-much of Christmas presses in, it helps to make room for the joy we crave by saying ‘no’ to what we don’t need.
Instead of the usual going without food, fasting during Advent can simply be a variation of giving up, putting off, setting aside or laying down. All these provide a way to make room for Jesus in our soul and spirit, where we are hungriest. Because, goodness knows, there are so many other things that want to “feed” us. Too much of anything can fill me so full that I never know I’m hungry. The Christmas season provides the greatest number of opportunities to drive this lesson home. Thousands of sparkly doodads, an overabundance of rich food, an explosion of visual input from every possible screen in the universe—how many Christmas specials can there be? Seriously.
So– what about fasting?
How About Fasting from Noise?
Turn off your screens—phones, tablets, computers—for 60 to 90 minutes and relish the freedom that quiet brings. Of course, it may be noisy now that you’ve got time to read one more book to your kids. But that’s a good kind of noise, the kind that feeds the soul—theirs and yours. Having your children also limit their visual media input is a way they can also fast. You might say, “Sometimes there’s noise we hear and sometimes there’s noise we see. All that makes it hard to hear and see God. Mom and Dad are going to spend less time with their phone/computer/tablet during Advent. When would you like to give up some of your screen time?” This phrasing frames the question in a way that communicates they will cut back, but it also gives them the power of making the choice of how and when. I’m not talking about stopping all visual media but taking baby steps to help children adjust their thinking, too. You could also say: “Do you want to limit your game time on Mom’s phone during the car ride home from school or while we’re at the grocery store?” “Do you want to give up your tablet during quiet time or before bed?” You get the idea.
Take a break during the Christmas season from visual media channels that keep you focused on “everybody else.” Facebook’s siren song or Pinterest and Instagram come to mind—whatever social vortex seems to suck you in. These platforms can be helpful for creativity but can also be a rabbit hole of, “Oooohhh, I should make this. No, I should try this.” Lay it down. Turn it off. Put it away.
Fasting from Food
Of course, your kids will need their three squares a day. Growing children need fuel to stay well, keep growing, and continue learning . . . and to be happy. The practice of fasting from food when it comes to your kids is clearly fraught with questions. Should they participate? Will they even understand what they’re doing? What’s the point?
Consider this. If our children get everything they want whenever they want it, we all know this is not a good thing. One way to help children understand they cannot always have whatever they want is to practice even a simple fast.
What about fasting from certain foods with your kids, saving your enjoyment for Christmas when you will break your fast together? Perhaps meats ham, beef, whatever—sweets or a particular treat. Or, you could set aside Sundays, traditionally the “feast days” on the church calendar, as days to look forward to those special foods. (Chocolate totally counts.)
Fasting during the holidays doesn’t have to be cold-turkey (sorry), but more of a subtle shift in thinking about the way we look at Christmas with all its too-much. Consider taking out all the fake “food” that promises to feed our soul and replacing it with holy nutrition.
Honoring, adopting or adapting one of the earliest traditions of Advent is a simple way to make room for more joy and peace this Christmas season.
And the best news? There’s nothing you need to add to your busy life, but something to take away. Literally.
Sometimes the best ‘yes’ is a ‘no.’ What a simple yet powerful gift.
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This post is an exerpt from Jody’s new book “Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas,” a short practical primer for families to slow down and simplify the Christmas Season. Available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Jody Collins is a vibrant workshop and retreat facilitator. She recently retired from over 20 years of teaching and enjoys spending time with her children and grandchildren. She and her husband call the Seattle area home where Jody loves spending her extra time in the garden. In addition to curating Glory Writers, an online group for Christian creatives, she writes weekly about faith/life discoveries on her blog www.jodyleecollins.com.
You can find her on Twitter as @jodyo70 and Instagram, jodyo52.
Mel @ Paper Plate LifestyleNovember 4, 2017 at 6:43 am
Interesting ideas! I was thinking of fasting from the sweets this year. I really like the suggestion of getting the kids involved. Maybe a fasting advent calendar instead of one loaded with ideas instead of candies?
JodyNovember 5, 2017 at 10:25 am
Mel, thanks for reading!
Slowing down the crazy train of Christmas can be aided by observing Advent in some form…at least that’s one of the focuses in my little red and white book. I talk about using or making a simple Advent wreath, where the focus is stopping once a week on a Sunday to light a candle and read a bit of Scripture. Maybe think about that.
I’m not sure a fasting calendar would go too well…. I talk about “making the days count” instead of counting down the days, so maybe a weekly approach would be a nudge in the right direction. I’m sure you can find resources online for the weekly watchwords and the Biblical passages that go with each Sunday. Good luck!
Kenyatta HarrisNovember 4, 2017 at 9:51 am
I loved this so much. Christmas has become so much about excess to the world…the idea of sacrifice is completely forgotten.
Jody CollinsNovember 5, 2017 at 10:26 am
Thank you, Kenyatta. My thoughts exactly; maybe we can help make a course correction, eh?
Nancy RueggNovember 6, 2017 at 1:09 pm
Love the idea of focusing on “holy nutrition” through the holidays. Each cookie we bypass can be an opportunity for worship! “Thank you, Lord Jesus, that true, eternal satisfaction is found in you–satisfaction that includes your goodness (Psalm 103:5) and your love (90:14).” Your book is wonderful, Jody, delightfully written and filled with easy-to-implement ideas for augmenting our Christmas experience. I’ve already earmarked several!