I don’t have to convince you that the month of December is one of the busiest times of the year. It doesn’t matter what part of they country, or the world for that matter, that you live in or how you old you are or what traditions you enjoy when it comes to Advent and Christmas. It may be the hap…happiest time of the year, but it’s also the bus…busiest time of the year as well.
So this idea of slowing down and choosing to embrace a more contemplative posture during the season of Advent flies in the face of what we have allowed to become the norm. It hardly seems fair to everyone else around us to make a go of this, but perhaps that’s just what we/they need. Maybe, just maybe, intentionally slowing down our pace as we participate in cookies swaps, shop for that perfect gift, decorate our homes, send out Christmas cards, move from party to party, and enjoy all the other wonderful holiday traditions will allow us to pause long enough to consider the hope that God offers us, His never-ending love, the joy of the Lord that somehow miraculously becomes our strength, and the peace of Christ that’s better than knowledge itself.
Two years ago I had the amazing opportunity to connect with a small group of strangers for a 9 month period of time to focus on a variety of spiritual practices for the purpose of becoming more aware of God’s power and presence in my life. This all happened at a place called Kavanna House.
One of those practices that we learned about, practiced and discussed was called an Annual Examen. No, it’s not a test you have to study for, but rather an opportunity at the end of the year to prayerfully reflect on the days that made up the past year to consider how God was at work in our lives. As you can imagine, at first it seemed like a daunting task, but as I entered into this examen I found myself amazed and grateful at what God was showing me. It was a powerful experience to say the least.
Advent is a great time to utilize this examen practice as a way of focusing your heart on the themes of hope, love, joy and peace. I took a moment earlier this week to consider how God was using the idea of hope in my life. As I paused and reflected this is what happened:
- God helped me to narrow down my main hope at this point in my life: to see my family reject selfish ambitions and the desire to control everything and everyone and instead allow the power and presence of God to lead us to embrace opportunities to serve and be a blessing to others, even those who live under the same roof.
- Choosing to live in hope is different than wishing for something to happen. I realized that too often I was wishing that certain things in my life would change instead of fixing my eyes on Jesus and following his lead so I could live into what it means to be a part of the new humanity that he not only taught but practiced living when he walked the earth. This change in perspective helps me to remain anchored, in my hope that God will keep His promises so that I can stop wishing things would change or be different and instead actually become who God saved me to be. This may not make sense to you, but it has flipped a switch in me in such a way that I now know what I need to do to see the changes I desire in my life and in the life of my family.
- I began to realize that my hope for my family was something I was trying to force and make happen instead of choosing myself to live God’s way and seeing my hope become reality as I lead my family.
Below is a brief outline you could use to practice this advent examen at the end of this first week of advent focused on the theme of hope.
- Make yourself comfortable. Light a candle and/or play some soft instrumental music if you like to help with the atmosphere.
- Rest into silence for a few minutes.
- Ask God to lead you through your day or week.
- Review and reflect.
- How did I hold onto hope today? Were there moments that I let go? If so, what happened?
- How am I waiting in hope right now?