Being awake to – and beyond – Advent

Ah, fall. The crisp air cuts summer’s sweltering heat. The changing leaves make the world beyond our window look like a Bob Ross painting. Apple cider and pumpkinspiceeverything reawaken our salivary glands. Fall is, without question, the season when I feel most alive.

Fall holds just as much promise in the church world. The new program year begins. Children and youth promote. Offerings and attendance pick back up after the summer slump. And then…budget and stewardship season hit. Planning for the new liturgical year begins in earnest. And Thanksgiving (for many of us) brings complicated and exhausting gatherings with loved ones who understand neither our profession nor our politics. Our energy bottoms out just in time for the start of Advent, which for clergy is an all-consuming effort to see the baby Jesus into the manger. It’s no wonder we want to hibernate from Christmas Day through Ash Wednesday (which, mercifully, holds off until March in 2017).

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. We can be present to our congregations and our loved ones throughout the holidays, take a hard-earned break afterward, and still function fully in January and February. Here are a few ideas toward that end:

  • Get some vitamin D. The daylight hours during December are fewer than at any other time of year, and lack of sun exposure can have a big impact on mood and motivation. Try leaving the building at lunch or at least working by a window.
  • Go home. Studies show that productivity tails off after a certain number of hours worked, so you could be working longer hours but getting less done. (Horrors!) This season calls for some extra weekends and evenings, so grab some flex time elsewhere.
  • Look at each week through the lens of the Advent wreath theme. Ask yourself each day this week where you witness or contribute to hope, for example. Here are some questions to help you focus your thoughts.
  • Honor the scriptural narrative by trusting some of the season’s heavy lifting to unlikely people. Remember that Mary, a young, unmarried woman, would never have been so bold as to volunteer to birth and raise the savior of the world. Who in your congregation is capable of taking on responsibility, if you will only ask and trust them to do so?
  • Make time for people you love. Few people will remember you didn’t get all the readers for Lessons & Carols. Your family and friends will remember if they don’t get the pleasure of your company and the honor of your attention. Drink hot chocolate together, hop in the car to look at lights, and gather around Santa for a picture.
  • Remember that Jesus will be born whatever you do – or don’t do. God can work through our errors of commission and omission as much as through our gifts and passions.
  • Ease your way back in after Epiphany. Some things can’t wait, like new leader training. But consider what other pieces you can experiment with, delegate, or let lie fallow.

May your Advent be more full of wonder than of stress and exhaustion.

Image courtesy of Hermano Leon Clip Art.

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