What Advent can teach us about Peace
By: Megan Brewer IMH
During the holiday season, many people await the coming of Christmas through the observance of Advent. Advent is an ancient church tradition beginning 4 weeks before Christmas and is a season of anticipation and expectation for the coming of Christ to the world. During Advent, the themes of hope, peace, joy and love are highlighted. Observers reflect on a different theme each week and reflect upon its significance in the coming of Christ.
The theme of peace is prevalent during the second week of Advent—and for the entire Christmas season for that matter—but many would describe the holiday season as anything but peaceful. Many feel the strain of the commercialized demands of shopping for presents, over-committing to parties and events, and navigating complicated and sometimes hostile family dynamics. It is surprising more people are not waiting for the holiday season to be over rather than looking towards it with hope, peace, joy, love and anticipation.
With these and many more unpleasant dynamics and experiences at play during the holiday season, it is helpful for us to take a step back and wonder how we might think towards and incorporate a spirit of peace for ourselves in the midst of it. It is tempting to think we don’t have the ability to change anything if we can’t change situations or others’ behavior, but that way of thinking just immobilizes us and makes us feel stuck.
We already know or are learning that there are some difficult things about the holidays we cannot change. We cannot change the decisions of people who react in painful ways towards us and others, whether they are angry strangers caught in the holiday rush or dysfunctional family members who say or do hurtful things to us or others in the family. We cannot change the way others expect us to get caught up in the chaos that can accompany the holiday season. We also cannot control unforeseen events like the loss of someone or something important to us. So, what can we do?
How can peace find an opening when the people around us and situations we find ourselves in block the way? It is at these times that we must start thinking of peace in a far different way. Rather than thinking of it exclusively in regard to our circumstances, we must think of peace as being found in the midst of disruption. Peace is not overcome by the external chaos seeking to destroy it. Advent preserves us from the disruption of our circumstances and of external chaos. It beckons us to come away from the dysfunctional and crazy-making parts of the holidays and invites us to look instead at a richer, fuller picture of what is now possible in our world: the deep capacity for hope, peace, joy and love.
Here are some practical lessons from Advent on how to find peace:
Set aside time to reflect:
The season of Advent invites us to come away from the rushing pace of the world and reflect. Set aside 20 minutes to slow yourself down. Sit quietly by yourself and begin by taking inventory of how you are experiencing this holiday season. Many of us are moving so fast this time of year that we are unaware of how we are being impacted by it. Start by checking in with your physical body. What do you notice? Does your chest feel tight? What about your shoulders? What do you notice in your stomach and back? You may become aware of how much stress your body is holding onto and your mind has not registered of until now.
Next, move inward to your thoughts and emotions. What do those places noticed in your body just a minute ago have to say? What thoughts, images or emotions come to mind? Maybe you notice you have become more irritable in the fast-paced rush of the season. Or maybe parts of your body have been tight because you have been anticipating a holiday gathering like the one last year, one that left you feeling angry or feeling bad about yourself. Taking time to slow down and reflect is important because, when we are caught up in unreasonable expectations or stuck focusing on the difficulty of a situation, we are not free to realize that we have the ability to make different choices.
Put your focus higher than the present moment’s struggles:
Practicing Advent shifts the observers focus to something and someone stronger and higher than the challenges of the season. Peace, then, is no longer contingent upon our circumstances, but rather becomes an inward presence that can be hoped upon apart from them.
Take a moment to think about what brings you peace. What in your life supersedes the disruption around you and brings your heart rest? What can you hold onto that gives you hope, purpose and strength? Maybe peace is found in a safe and loving relationship, or maybe it can be found by making a decision that doesn’t necessarily make others happy but is more in line with what is healthiest for you. It may even be choosing to grieve over something you wish was different instead of bottling it up inside and allowing others to comfort and encourage you. If you observe traditional Advent, peace is found outside of our circumstances in the form of a promise that Christ’s coming has not only made peace possible in our own hearts now through His presence but will bring even greater peace in times to come.
Advent invites us to anticipate peace in the future:
Perhaps upon reflection, you realized a deficit of peace in your life that extended beyond the Christmas season. Circumstances of this past year may have filled life with anxiety, sadness and stress. As you look to the new year, what would you like to be different? How can peace take root in the future? What are some practical steps you can start thinking of now to implement in the new year?
Finding an anchor for peace in the middle of the holiday rush and chaos is possible, but it does take intentional time and work. Getting caught up in unhealthy expectations of the season is normal and surprisingly easy to do. So, this year, try starting an Advent practice of your own and it just may become one of your favorite traditions for the holidays.
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Please call our office at 407-647-7005.