Southern Cross column from a few weeks ago which may or may not be relevant now that Advent is over. Maybe there’s still a nugget in there somewhere…
One recent morning I found myself sitting in the principal’s office at our son’s middle school. I had not scheduled this visit, but the discussion was important and helpful in a situation we were working through.
As I sat and listened and talked, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had somewhere else I needed to be. But I didn’t. Here we are in the throes of Advent (and Christmas preparation) and there were so many things to do, but none of it was anything that needed me at that exact moment. If I could allow myself, I reasoned, I had the freedom to just relax and be in the moment. This was where I needed to be, in this moment right now.
One of my primary goals for this Advent season had been to avoid the frenzy that Christmas can too easily bring. But even with our hopes of simplified shopping and less focus on our own needs, it is so easy to get wrapped up in a GO! mentality — always moving forward, always with a laundry list of items to do.
But what if that list is filled with good things — people I want to serve? Good deeds I want to perform? Is there anything wrong with having (really good) things I want to work on, things that aren’t all about consumerism and the world?
The only thing wrong with that, I’m beginning to realize, is if it isn’t what God is asking of me, then it’s not the right plan.
There are so many wonderful opportunities out there for us, good things we can do for others. There are a million ways we can take the focus off ourselves and put it on helping the less fortunate. What a difference it makes when we turn our gaze away from within.
But sometimes, even our best ideas can be taking us away from where God wants us to be. For me, I knew sitting in that office and peacefully working on this issue was where I was needed, God had given me that opportunity. I needed to put my own agenda aside and take advantage of the “right now.”
How do we know the difference between our own plans and God’s plans? We slow down just enough to see what opportunities God sets before us.
Weeks ago, at the beginning of this Advent season, I had so many ideas about how we as a family could spend our time. I had hopes of Christmas caroling at a nursing home, of taking my boys to serve at a soup kitchen, of asking an elderly neighbor how we could help.
These were all very good ideas and I’m sure they would have blessed others and taught us a lesson in self-sacrifice and love. But life got moving and the next thing I knew, we had only a few days of Advent with what I feared was little to show for my high hopes of service to others.
“Lord,” I cried out, “have I fallen into the same old thing? Did I spend these weeks of preparation only preparing practically?”
In a flash, Jesus showed me that I had indeed answer his call. Instead of the opportunities I planned to seek out, he sent my way what he needed me to do. And I realized that our Advent was indeed filled with service to others, because of simple yes to the request in front of me.
We cooked a meal for a family in need. We hosted a last-minute party for an out-of-town relative who needed our hospitality. We helped out at the reception of friends whose daughter got married. We helped a friend clean her house.
None of these were in my plans, but God allowed us to bring his peace and comfort where we were needed.
There will still be opportunities to do some of the things I had hoped — to bring my children to feed the hungry, to bring the warmth of song to the shut-in. God knows the desires of my heart to serve, and especially to give my children the opportunity to learn that joy.
In the meantime, we take one step at a time, listening for the voice of God, doing what he asks of us, always seeking his will in our life, day by day by day.