Extensions. We all need them from time to time when we just can’t seem to pull off the deadline expected of us. This year, I am in need of a different kind of extension: an extension of a season. Advent Season.
I know you are thinking Christmas has come and gone. We’ve unwrapped the gifts, put away the decorations and are already “cleaning up shop” with our list of resolutions for the coming year. Which is exactly why I need an extension of Advent.
As a kid, the only association I had with Advent was the countdown calendars. Remember those? We were sugar-deprived children in my family, so there was nothing more thrilling than “opening a window” each day until Christmas and discovering different chocolate delights nested inside. I think we anticipated the chocolate much more than the birth of a baby.
It wasn’t until I started attending a more liturgical church after college that I started to see that Advent was much more than lighting candles and counting down to Christmas with chocolate. It was a whole season of preparation to reflect on the beautiful mystery of our very Creator coming into our world and what this means for our lives today.
We focus on the little town of Bethlehem where the angels bring good news of glad tidings about a baby coming to bring peace and joy and freedom into our (let’s be honest) messy lives. Ultimately, the message of Advent is that God did all of this to free us from the pressure of “having it all together.” As a perpetual box checker, this is certainly good news for me. It’s good news for all of us.
If December is the season of Advent, then January might as well be marked as the season of Accomplishment. January 1st pops up on the calendar and we can’t help but try to figure out what we can add or subtract or how we can work harder to be the person we aspire to be.
No, I’m not talking about New Year’s resolutions. (I gave those up years ago when I finally admitted that I was never resolute enough to give up sugar or wake up at 5am to exercise.) I’m talking about the subconscious media messages whispering in our ears that this is the time of year to fix ourselves. Who you are today is not good enough.
What a shame that right after the Advent season enables us to take away the pressure we feel to be the best ________(worker, artist, friend, spouse), the January Season of Accomplishment rolls in and steals our peace, joy and freedom.
So this year, I’ve decided to extend Advent.
No, I will not light a candle every week or keep singing Christmas carols. I will, however, keep my mind set on the idea that we have a kind Creator who isn’t asking us to fix ourselves or be perfect because He understands our humanity. He experienced it himself here on earth and knows our limitations. This is good news. And not just for the type A perfectionists out there. This is good news for all of us who feel a sense of longing to live more artful, faithful lives. For those of us who wish that we could be more disciplined not just with how we treat our bodies, but also with how we are using our gifts of creativity.
What if this year was more about freeing ourselves from accomplishment and joyfully pursuing opportunities to enjoy using our gifts instead? Maybe it’s time to pick up the guitar again and finish writing that song you started, but never finished. For others it may mean writing that next chapter, hosting a dinner party or, in my case, pulling out the paintbrushes.
Yes, a couple days ago, I dusted off my good old college art kit from the bowels of my closet and stared at a blank white canvas. Intimidated, I started sketching on another piece of paper afraid that I might ruin the white surface if I didn’t plan right. I started focusing so much on the end product, that I wasn’t even enjoying the process.
Then I remembered my Advent extension.
Like a 5 year old, I started squirting paints on my palate, combining colors to form more beautiful hues, and before I knew it... I was completely enjoying myself. Paint went from palate to paintbrush to canvas and I was creating again. It was thrilling to be doing something creative and not need it to be for anyone or any purpose, except for the joy of doing something I loved.
Here’s to a year of pursuing creativity with joy and freedom. Free from avoiding things because we are afraid to not be good enough. Free to collaborate with new friends on projects. Free to try something new in hopes of discovering talents. Maybe it’s time you gave yourself an extension of Advent as well.
Happy New Year. Jenny