The Pressure of Christmas

There’s no denying that Christmas is busy.
If you work for a church, there’s more to do.
If you go to a church there’s more to do.
Then there is shopping for gifts, and wrapping, and parties, and on and on…

Then, on top of that, we have all sorts of voices – blogs, pastors, friends – reminding us that this is a season that we’re supposed to slow down. Spend more time with family. Spend more time reflecting on our Creator’s birth.

But we already know that.
The families we minister to already know that.

I wonder how helpful it is to point out what people already know and struggle with. Doesn’t that just cause more stress? During the busy seasons of life, wouldn’t it be better to provide opportunities for slowing down? I’m not talking about adding another event but finding ways that we can support families where they are – to let them know that they are accepted, even if they are busy.

I think those of us in children & family ministry need to start thinking of ways we can help families engage in the celebration of the season, maintaining focus on the real reasons, but somehow lowering the bar for parents rather than adding an extra obligation. We need to accept our families where they are while helping them escape the burdensome hustle in which they have found themselves.

Devotions: Walk before you Run

I think December, specifically the Advent season, is the perfect time for families to begin setting aside time to make Faith Talks a habit in their home. At our church, Life Bridge, we’re encouraging this through the use of the Advent Book and a pamphlet on how to have a family devotion time.

Of course, I’m not asking our church to do something that I’m not willing to do. Each December my family sets aside a time for our advent devotions. It’s something that we’ve done for a number of years, so many that we’ve created traditions and we look forward to the time each year.

But it wasn’t always this way.

I didn’t come from a family that had deep (healthy) family traditions around Christmas or did family devotions, nor did my wife. When we first married, it wasn’t something we gave much of a priority…and even in our early parenting years we didn’t have traditions.

That’s because they don’t form overnight.

We started with putting up a tree. We have 2 ornaments that mark our first Christmases together (one dating, one married) – we still put those on first. We have babies first Christmas ornaments.
Next we added baking cookies to give to families that ministered to our children.
Then that list morphed.
Then we added seeing the lights in a nearby town and eating dessert afterwards.
And slowly, traditions formed.

My encouragement to families this season and to those ministering to families: Lower the bar. Think small.

What is something simple that you can do? Something that you’ll be willing to do next year as well. Maybe it’s as simple as have a meal at the dining room table, together. Maybe it’s watch Rudolph or Frosty together.

Yes, I still think families should do Advent devotions, but if they aren’t doing anything, jumping into every night might be too big a leap – how about once a week. Or how about once?

Let’s make sure our family can crawl, before it walks – then it learns to run.

Should I Have Family Devotions?

Creating Traditions

Sunday our family gathered around as we normally do on the first day of Advent for our annual brainstorming session. Each year we share ideas of different activities we can do as a family to celebrate the season – ideas like baking cookies for a neighbor, having a game night, or taking a trip. As in any brainstorming session, we try not to limit the ideas.
Then we set to work on getting rid of the ideas that we don’t want to do or we can’t do because of time, finances or some other reason. The next step continues to hone the ideas – what do we want to make sure we do?
As my wife began to star each idea that we said we would like to do, we quickly realized that everything was going to get stared. So we regrouped and asked a different question. We said that we would try to do as much on the list as we could, but we need to know “What things on the list, if we didn’t do them, it wouldn’t be Christmas?”
The list that emerged contained most of the things that we do every year. Baking cookies for others, making a countdown chain, game night, viewing Christmas lights and looking for a service opportunity.
As we sat back, my wife said, “You know what we’ve done?”
“We’ve created Christmas traditions. That’s pretty amazing.”

Neither of us had many traditions growing up so it is neat to see how intentional repetition over time has shaped the expectations of our boys. They find security and joy in the anchor of these traditions and I expect that they will carry some of them to their homes.

It’s pretty amazing to think that what I am doing now could have an effect on a generation that I will never meet on this side of heaven – but then again, that’s the whole idea.

Beginning Advent Traditions

Advent begins Sunday!

I’d like to say that this first Advent Sunday kicks off the Christmas season, but in the states, what kicks off the Christmas season is the day after Thanksgiving – Black Friday. The ads are out, the bargains have begun – shopping is in the air. Inundated with ads, talks of gifts, and memories of Santa, it is easy to fall into the cycle: sales, Santas and presents.

Did you know that repetition plays a huge role in our children’s learning process. Repetition is what helps them make sense of the world, what gives them security; it how they learn what is important. So, if year after year we repeat the cycle of sales and presents, taking only a few moments here and there to talk about the birth of Jesus are we inadvertently teaching our children that Christmas is about stuff?
Elevating Christ during Advent »

Resisting Change

Change is difficult…and people make it even more difficult. But, knowledge is power so understand why people resist change can make it easier for you and those you are helping through change:

  • The change was someone else’s idea
  • Their routine is disrupted
  • The unknown is scary
  • The purpose wasn’t communicated enough
  • The fear of failure
  • Change requires additional commitment
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