by Dustin Hite, M. Div., 2010, Christian Theological Seminary, and Promise Road Campus Pastor, Geist Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Indianapolis, IN
In our family, the Advent/Christmas season doesn’t officially begin until two things have happened: (1) we decorate the Christmas tree—my children delicately placing the ornaments on various branches, and (2) the annual reading of Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree (a tradition that dates back to my early childhood days, sitting around the fire at my grandparents house). Once these two events have taken place, I know Advent is officially here. Yet, even before these sacred times, my vocational duty as a pastor during Advent has likely commenced, the rush from one event or meeting to the next furiously begun.
So, how can I find time for the holy amidst all the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season? That’s a loaded question. I’d like to say I’ve found the perfect way to balance my duties as a pastor with the needs of my family in remembering the true meaning of Christmas, but I’ve not always been that good at it. In fact, most of the time, I’ve failed miserably.
And yet, I keep trying…and it’s in the trying where I find the holy. Like when I try to ensure that my kids understand the season isn’t just about getting gifts, but about giving gifts, and not just material gifts, but the gifts of time, love, and care. Or when I try to nurture time with my wife as we sit in the quietness of the late evening, our kids sleeping upstairs, letting out the deep exhale of a busy day. There are also those moments when I try to simply sit, silent, awaiting the next moment of busyness, and using that moment to meditate, pray, and think.
The reason I focus so much on trying is that in pastoral work it becomes really easy to count all the ways, in the busy times (and Advent, if not a busy time, I don’t know what is), we’ve failed—our kids, our spouses/significant others, our friends, our congregations. There are seemingly infinite ways in which we can let others down and only so much time to make sure we don’t. So, for me, the simple act of trying is itself holy…and it’s not just during Advent that we need this reminder.
So what am I trying this year? Well, every morning (um, honestly, “most” mornings would be more accurate) I’m trying to set aside 30 minutes to simply read and reflect. I’m working my way through a devotional, the main thought of which helps make real for me the notion of waiting during the Advent season. With my family, we find little times to eat together, to laugh and play together, to search for a little elf that wreaks havoc on our home for the month of December, and simply connect with the joys of childhood during the Christmas season.
But, the holiest moment of the Advent season actually happens early on Christmas morning. After the last Christmas Eve service has ended and long after the final family has made their way home, I’ll drive thirty minutes home in silence, finally able to breathe, and this typifies, for me, the holiness of the Advent season. I’ll quietly sneak into a house where everyone else slowly slipped into their slumber long before my arrival and try to catch a few hours of sleep before my children rise (all too early) for the festivities of Christmas morning. And as I sit with them, tired and sipping on a hot cup of coffee, I’ll know, yet again, that the one we call “Emmanuel” has truly been ‘God-with-me’ all along.
The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.
The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.