Prepare for Advent

The first Sunday of Advent is the Sunday after Thanksgiving. It’s a great time to make sure you have your supplies, books and ideas ready for the season.

Having a mindful Christian Advent is a time of joy and wonder. It’s a quiet time spent intentionally concentrating on the miracle of Jesus’ birth rather than the commercial version of Christmas. This kind of Advent is build peace instead of panic.

two books for Advent

Some ideas for Advent prep include:

  • Get or make Advent candles. (We are doing beeswax candles from a kit this year. You can find the kit here.)
  • Purchase an Advent calendar or stock up one if you have a reusable model.
  • Get the Advent wreath out of storage … or buy one.
  • Order a new Advent devotional or order new ones. This year I’m using two favorites: “Preparing for Christmas” by Richard Rohr and “Living in Joyful Hope” by Suzanne M. Lewis.
  • Get out your Christmas music.
  • Organize children’s Christmas books.
  • Pick the name of a saint or devout Christian. You can study their life during the season. I’m doing Henri Nouwen this year.

Overcome Election Anxiety

Bombarded with fears about what will happen to the United States? Feeling the crush of election anxiety? You’re not alone.

I am a registered Independent because neither party has a platform that I fully endorse. I dislike the lack of civility, the tone of campaigning and the name-calling that has infiltrated our political system. And I’ve experienced fears for our democracy that I never expected to have in my life. As Sarah Young writes in “Jesus Listens,” “People are calling evil good and good evil.” This leads to anxiety.

Jesus does not want us to lead lives filled with dread. So we have to deal with anxiety thought by thought by thought. We can be sure this is possible because Paul tells us to “take captive every thought.” (2nd Corinthians 2:5) Christian mindfulness makes it easier to fulfill this advice.

To take your thoughts captive and overcome anxiety, you have to do five things repeatedly: Notice. Stop. Pray. Refocus. Act.

NOTICE: Listen to your thoughts. We know that paying attention on purpose helps us to listen to the chatter in our minds. It’s a good thing, too, because our thoughts direct our emotions. Whenever we get wound up in anxiety, bad thoughts are at the core.

STOP: Take a few deep, slow breaths.

PRAY: Once we feel a bit more calm, we need to pray for God’s grace to help us keep focused on Him. You can pray:

Lord, help me to not be overcome by uncertainty and fear. Help me not to wallow in fears of evil. I know none of what’s happened is a surprise to you. I know in the end You will triumph. And I know that I may not even be understanding this correctly. Instead, I trust in you as my constant companion.

REFOCUS: God wants us to focus on His presence in the moment. So visualize Jesus alongside you. Think about God’s character and all the ways He is with you. Focus on God’s goodness.

ACT: God wants us to be a light shining in the darkness. You can do this if you practice the presence of God. If you seek His will for what you should do to become a force for good. Fill your calendar with things that you know God wants you to do. Such as?

  • Spiritual practices, such as all types of prayer, Bible study, Sabbath, gifts of your time and money, and intentional Christian fellowship in church and small group.
  • The seven spiritual works of mercy: Counsel the doubtful. Instruct the ignorant. Admonish the sinner. Comfort the sorrowful. Forgive all injuries. Bear wrongs patiently. Pray for the living and the dead.
  • Acts of corporal mercy to address the needs of the poor and helpless: Feed the hungry. Visit the imprisoned. Buy clothing for those who need it. Care for the sick. Shelter travelers. Offer drink to the thirsty.
  • And what you say. If you can’t communicate in ways that show the gifts of the Holy Spirit, be quiet. Talk to God about your concerns, instead of dumping them on family, friends and social media.

Focus on the good you can do. God has prepared works in advance for you to do. As you become a force for good, your anxiety melts away.

Experience Grace During Suffering

Suffering is a given in any life. But, for some Christians, suffering is a shock. A sign that God isn’t paying attention. Or a symptom that they are praying incorrectly. The idea that a Christian life is all prosperity and popcorn is widespread … and wrong.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Jesus, John 16:33

How can we “take heart” when pain and sorrow, fear and loss take up center stage in our lives. God is omnipotent. God can do anything. God could fix this in a second. Why does He allow our suffering?

Jesus warned us that we would have trouble on Earth, but He encourages us to remember that He has overcome the world. In fact, He says “so that in me you may have peace” in almost the same breath. So what does that mean exactly when pain, sorrow and loss are center stage in our lives? And how do we get there? I believe some answers come from Paul’s words about his pain and trouble in 2nd Corinthians 12:6-10.

Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul, 2nd Corinthians 12:6-10

This statement makes perfect sense when combined with the idea of a God who consents to Satan’s request for test a person, as He did to Job (Job 1:6-22) and to Peter (Luke 22:31).

God knows that suffering develops humility, a true understanding of who we each are and who God is. Without this depth of awareness, we can’t be in a strong relationship with God. Our trials not only build faith and character; they also open our eyes to the reality of our existence

Jesus prays for us in times of temptation and suffering. For example, He told Peter that He had prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail. It’s notable that Jesus did not pray that Peter would not deny Him. He knew the terrible experience was necessary for Peter and for all who later learned about it.

The phrase “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” is not from the Bible. It’s from “Conan the Barbarian,” with the script slightly misquoting Nietzsche. Actually, suffering makes us weaker, which is a good thing.

Why? Because God wants people to see His presence in His Christians (and not just in Paul and Peter, either.) Suffering breaks up the vessel of our self-centeredness, our self-regard. A broken vessel displays the light of God’s presence within to others. Maintaining faith, joy and hope during a serious calamity is the best Christian witness we can ever give.

How do we do that? The good news is: It’s not up to us.

God tells us, as He told Paul: “My graces are sufficient for you.” I believe that this means that God will give us the abundant graces we need to deal with suffering without fear and anxiety, but with His peace and joy. All we need to do is be open to accept these graces.

I have found this to be true in my life. I open myself up to God in continual prayer and thanksgiving, using Christian mindfulness. God fills me up with peace and joy even in the hospital waiting room, in a locked psych ward with a loved one, at the funeral home, on the scene of the accident, in the board conference room and during the dark of the night. It’s not up to me. God is doing it for me and through me.

When we suffer and rest in God’s grace, God responds.

I will give you the secrets of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know I am the Lord, the God of Israel who summons you by name.

Isaiah 45:3

Kay Warren, co-founder of Saddleback Church, has called this experience “gritty grace.” Maybe the abrasion we feel is good for everyone.