Quietly attentive children sitting around a table listening to their father reading the weekly Advent lesson with the warm glow of candle light illumining their sweet faces: this was my vision of how our family should prepare for Christmas every year. And it was clearly my vision alone.
Failures abounded in this one seemingly simple family activity.
- When the first Sunday of Advent coming so soon after Thanksgiving I failed before I started. It was too much to prepare for Thanksgiving and be ready for Advent in the same week.
- My children never sat in rapt attention listening to their father teach anything! We had lots of eye rolls, slumped shoulders, and do I have to?
- My husband, bless him, is not the kind to do formal sit-down-and-teach the kids anything, unless they’d gotten in trouble. Then he taught them more seriously. But family devotions for him was about fun; family Olympics or family wrestling on the living room floor. So, he was never warm to the idea of sitting around the table every Sunday night doing Advent devotions.
But that didn’t stop me from trying! I bought a wreath (more than once), bought the candles, found greenery and fixed the wreath. I tried the dining room table one year, the coffee table another year (which didn’t work at all because our toddlers could reach it), and the top of the upright piano.
Success was not a high probability for our family. I never liked math anyway. We had six babies in ten years so when the youngest was 2 the oldest was 12, a tween almost teen. And the boys who were 11 and 9 weren’t too excited about sitting still for anything, even dinner.
In the busyness of life in December, in the years I tried to do Advent, I often forgot to gather everyone for the event. Not once in all our parenting years did we actually start and finish an advent wreath, lighting a candle each week and reading the booklet.
Does my failure give you some hope?
Here are some lessons I learned as a result of this failure, and many others, that might help you.
- In spite of a child’s or children’s resistance to mom and dad’s attempts at doing an Advent activity or any other kind of spiritual teaching moment, they are actually hearing much more than parents know. A lot of the resistance is an act. With each of our kids we heard them repeat something they heard from us that let us know they were listening. Persevere. Keep trying.
- Mom and Dad are in charge. If you parents want to do devotions a certain way, that’s your decision. Don’t let your kids talk you out of it or make you give up because they are having crummy attitudes. Don’t let them win.
- Don’t let failure stop you from trying. Perfection is not the goal. This was hard for me a first-born perfectionist to learn. I quit too many times because I hated feeling like a failure. But most of the time I’d get back up and try again.
- This is the most important lesson. Doing something is better than doing nothing. Doing one lesson of Advent is better than zero, even with kids who act like they aren’t listening!
I have an Advent idea for you to try that is a little more hands-on kid-friendly than the kind I tried.
Advent means “His coming” which is why many churches encourage their members to participate in an advent calendar or use an advent wreath. It’s all about building anticipation which is a really important part of our faith. Waiting is not something we do very well in our modern cultures with instant access to almost anything we want on our phones or other screens. But the coming of Jesus was anticipated for centuries!
When we create an advent activity we remember and practice waiting for the birth of the Messiah like the Jewish people did for thousands of years.
Two years ago, I worked with a friend to design a set of four ornaments called His Advent Names. Each round ornament, made to look like our earth, is printed with a name of Jesus and a verse used to describe His coming, His advent. You can see them here if you don’t have a set.
Here’s how to use the ornaments for Advent:
- Gather supplies: four paper lunch sacks, markers or glue and glitter, raffia, shredded or crumpled paper for a nest, and the four ornaments
- With your kids, if they are old enough, create fanciful numbers one through four on each of the sacks. Let them decorate the entire sack if you want.
- Fill the bottom of each sack w the nesting material, place one ornament in each sack, fold down the top, and find a place to keep them, ready for each week’s Advent devotion.
- Plan ahead who will read the 4 short stories about each Advent name of Jesus in the accompanying small book. Share the reading assignments with kids who are readers, not just parents.
- Decide if you will gather after church or on Sunday evening or at breakfast one morning.
- Participate! While someone reads the story, another family member selects the bag for the corresponding Sunday in Advent, opens it and hangs the ornament on your Christmas tree. Ideally Mom or Dad can pray after the story is complete, thanking Jesus for coming to earth to fulfill God’s plan for Him and for us.
The good news about involving your kids in crafting the bags is they will be more excited about doing this activity. They will even remind you, or ask you over and over if we can open the sack today, which means fewer eye rolls!
Remember doing one week of Advent is better than none, so don’t let the inevitable failures keep you from trying. Every little lesson about God, even tiny ones, is a feeding of your child’s soul.
Persevere moms and dads!
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