5 practices to help you prioritize peace in the busiest time of year
Photo by Jeshoots
Mindfulness. It’s not always something those who are in ministry are noted for around this time of year. And let’s be honest: Parents have been known to be a little distracted too. After all, someone needs to remember to defrost the turkey, send the invites, deck the halls, and make sure every kid gets to practice on time. Meanwhile at church there are bulletins to proofread, a wealth of new problems with the sound system just waiting to be discovered, and don’t forget—the manger in your nativity scene isn’t going to fill itself with hay on its own.
Who makes all those things happen? Often it’s pastors, ministry leaders, and parents.
In the 16th century, priest and community leader Ignatius of Loyola introduced the Daily Examen, a form of prayer that would help those in his care to remain focused on their identity and purpose in God. The prayer has taken a few different forms over time, but this simple practice of walking oneself through Ignatius’ steps of contemplation, thankfulness, and surrender has guided many over time to realign their hearts and minds in ministry.
I think Ignatius’ message serves as witness to the fact that the temptation to let details distract us is nothing new, but we don’t have to allow them. When we develop some intentional practices of prayer and refocus our hearts during busy seasons, we are more able to recognize God at work in the authentic, unplanned moments that are happening all around us.
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My favorite form of the prayer of Examen centers on five easy reflections. Here are five simple practices paired with reflections from the FYI team to help you refocus on what’s important as you plan, lead, and worship this Advent and Christmas season.
1. Ask God for the light
The practice begins by reminding ourselves that everything—our plans, our failures, our very breath—is centered on God at work, creating and inspiring in us. Consider these timeless words:
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
(Isaiah 11:1-2 NRSV)
Remember God has promised that same Spirit—the one which rested on Christ in life and raised him from the dead—will live in us too.
When you are feeling the weight of your to-do list, remind yourself of the ministry to which you were called. Was it to find perfectly color-coordinated Christmas cards? No. It was to reach out and help those God has placed in your life to feel known and loved. In those moments when details feel like they’re taking over, stop. Ask God to take back control. And proclaim the Gospel through your words and actions.
2. Give thanks
If busyness is the first hazard of the holiday season, comparison lies in wait right behind it. Developing a daily practice of gratitude helps us to reclaim those moments when we’re tempted to feel that our best intentions have fallen flat, and celebrate the fleeting gifts that our ministry and our family truly bring to our lives. Ground yourself by giving thanks for what you’ve got, and others will want to do the same.
3. Review the day
In this season we create an abundance of important events and carefully crafted moments. But with the promise of magical memories also comes the potential for great disappointment. Our margin for grace can become particularly thin when others don’t show up with their share of holiday spirit. In those moments, resist the urge to feel like you’ve been robbed of something. Instead, form a new tradition for yourself. Take a moment to review the day for what it has been, and for what it hasn’t been, just seeing it without judgment. Give thanks for the beauty of relationship, and ask for an extra helping of grace.
4. Face your shortcomings
If we’re being honest, for many of us a little soul-searching will uncover the hard truth that a large amount of disappointment we experience during the holidays is rooted in disappointment with ourselves. The most direct way to deal with that reality is to face it head on. The story of the birth of Christ is the beginning of a story of life-changing, heart-transforming, peace-bearing hope. That’s good news for all of us, in all of our frailty. So give your faults over to God, and watch what he does with them.
5. Look toward the day to come
If yesterday didn’t turn out quite the way you’d planned, you can always try a different approach today.
- Get to know someone new.
- Reach out to someone who’s feeling left out.
- Gather the people you love and ask questions you’ve always wanted to ask.
- Reconnect with someone who’s been away for a while.
- Set goals that will help you be more mindful for the future.
As we plan, parent, and participate in the wonder and mystery of Advent and Christmas this season, may we be fully present to the transforming work God is doing in and around us.