This year, I want to slow down and savor the Advent season. What does that mean? To me, it means living in the moment and taking in all that Advent has to offer. It also means slowing my life down enough to better pay attention to the presence of God.
I made this decision recently, during a quiet and prayer time at a middle school Confirmation retreat. The congregation I serve is in the Lutheran tradition, and our Confirmation teaching takes place when a youth is in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. This year, we decided to work an overnight retreat into our fall programming, and we took eleven middle school students to camp for 24 hours of team-building, fellowship, and learning.
During the retreat, I facilitated a personal quiet and prayer time. The point of this evening prayer time was to give our young teens the opportunity to slow down and have some personal time with God. I set up prayer stations on the porch of the lodge, and for half an hour our group explored the stations, engaging in experiential prayer practices. I also gave them permission to sit in the quiet, if they preferred it.
I wasn’t sure how this time would go. Like most middle schoolers, our youth are bursting with energy. By the time we got to this part of the day, we had spent our afternoon doing a lot of things: playing games, eating snacks, making crafts, learning together, and playing more games. I was pleasantly surprised when, after dinner, I gave our group the instructions for our quiet time and then watched them settle down; they began exploring the prayer stations and, very quickly, became quiet.
Watching them settle down reminded me how important it is to take quiet time. It reminded me how easy it is to get caught up in the busyness of life, forgetting how to pause and experience the presence of God. I think this is especially true at this time of year when our holiday obligations keep us so busy. We have extra parties, programs, concerts; or, perhaps you are like me and are spending more time planning and preparing for Christmas Eve and Christmas activities in your congregation. In the blink of an eye, Advent is gone and we’re singing Silent Night by candlelight and celebrating Christmas Day.
But isn’t Advent about slowing down and preparing our hearts for the coming of the Christ child? Isn’t it about remembering the hope, peace, love, and joy that come to us at Christmas? I wonder what it looks like for us to slow down and savor the Advent season. I also wonder what it looks like to encourage the young people in our lives to do the same.
Many people use the early morning before the busyness of the day begins to have intentional quiet time. It might include reading scripture, journaling, prayer, or a mix of it all. I will admit that early morning quiet time is not a habit I follow through with very often; I am not a morning person. However, last year I found an Advent study that I wanted to try and got myself into the rhythm of beginning my day with the devotions. I sat at my dining room table, lit the candles on my Advent wreath, read scripture, and listened to the audio reflection that came with the series. It became a beautiful, sacred habit, and I felt more grounded during a busy month. I even found myself paying more attention to where I felt God’s presence amid the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
This year, I’m going to try this practice again. My Advent wreath will sit in the middle of my dining room table, and every morning I will light the appropriate number of candles for the week while reading scripture, reflecting, and praying. I’m using this free Advent devotion from author Kate Bowler, but there are so many options out there. If taking quiet time every day is too much, perhaps you could try once a week instead? I am giving families at my church this devotion book from Illustrated Ministry, which only has one devotion per week, plus an additional one for Christmas Eve.
No matter what form it takes, I hope you can find some time to slow down this Advent season. May we quietly and joyfully prepare ourselves for the birth of the One whose presence turns the world upside down.
How will you intentionally slow down the pace of your life during Advent?