Thanksgiving is over. Christmas seems far off but is coming quickly. The overlooked season between is Advent. It is a busy and joyful, stressful and hopeful time of year. As a single mom of five boys, one of whom was born on Christmas Day, I know the ups and downs of this season well. To survive the holidays and enter Christmas peacefully, you need to grow your faith without becoming more overwhelmed. You don't need complex strategies. You don't need additional burdens or guilt. You need simple ways to grow your faith this Advent. Here are 25 things I have used to grow my faith over the years as well as a few favorites from friends.
25 Ways to Grow Your Faith this Advent
- Desist - 10 minutes daily - Desist is translated as, "Be still." It comes from Psalm 45 and means to surrender. Desist is a reminder that you are not in control and that not being in control is a good thing! Stillness is difficult in this busy season, but your cookies will get made, your presents will get wrapped, and your kids will go to bed. The work will get done - or it won't. Either way, take ten minutes to sit alone in silence each day. This is an exercise in self discipline and surrender. You can do this in the bathroom, after your kids go to bed or in your car if needed. Commit to ten minutes and guard it like your sanity is at stake because some days it may be! The call to be still and let God handle life is one of the simplest and most challenging ways you can welcome Christ this Advent.
- Read Your Bible - 10 minutes every day plus journaling time - Find a quiet spot alone or cuddle up with your children. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind. Believe the Lord speaks to you personally in His Word. Follow a Bible reading plan or open to whatever section He directs you to. Read and absorb just one small segment. Journal or sketch what He says. Meditate on His message as you move through the day.
- Corporal Works of Mercy - 2 hours once a month - Feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Give gift cards to the poor. This may not be exactly what the catechism teaches, but it's close! Purchase supplies and spend an evening as a family making care packages for the homeless. Toiletries, bottled water, granola bars, and warm socks make a difference in the life of someone on the edge. Include a handwritten note and let them know God sees them (Do not use your real name if safety is a concern - and it should be a concern for all)!
- Confess - 45 minutes once a week - Go to Confession once a week during Advent. When you go to Confession regularly, you notice you have more to confess. You will also notice you confess the same sins each time. That is okay! God is helping you find patterns to work on! Be thankful for that rather than ashamed of it. If you have not been to Confession in a while, go at least once before Christmas. The priest is not allowed to disclose what is said in the Confessional. Many priests have gone to jail and been persecuted to protect those confessing to them. If you are still uncomfortable with your home priest, go to a distant parish to protect your anonymity. Wherever you go, be sure to do so at least once during Advent. Welcoming Christ with a clean soul changes how you think of the holy day.
- Treasure the Mass - 15 minutes - Ask the Lord to help you see Mass as a celebration and a Sacrifice! Unite your suffering to His in the Mass. Choose to get to the church 15 minutes before Mass starts. Lay out clothes the night before. Have granola bars or easy breakfast for little ones or those who must eat before Mass. Put CCD attendance cards and donation envelopes near the front door with your keys so they are easy to grab on the way out. Do not socialize in the Church before, during, or after Mass. Take time to study features and artwork. Tell your kids stories of the Saints when they are with you. Sit in peace and silence when you are alone. Keep the quiet.
- Adore - One hour plus travel time once a week - Find an Adoration Chapel. Sit with Christ for an hour each week. Cry when you need to. Listen when He speaks. Pray. Read the Bible or a book about the Saints. Journal. Sit and be still. This works well for those who can't find ten minutes every day but who want quiet time alone with Christ in the Eucharist.
- Receive Reverently - no extra time - Think of the sacredness of the sand Jesus walked on. Consider the power of the Saints' relics. Can you now begin to comprehend the power of the Eucharist? If faith the size of a mustard seed is enough to move mountains, imagine what a sliver of the Body of Christ can do! Research the reality of what is happening on the altar in Transubstantiation. Ask Jesus to open your heart to this reality. Show the Lord you want to leave lukewarm faith behind. Do not thrust out your hands greedily, but take our Lord directly on your tongue. Kneel as you receive your Lord and Savior. Kneel to accept the Love of your King! For information on Eucharist Miracles see teenager Blessed Carlo Acutis's mission here).
- Make a Friend - varied - You are not alone! You are part of the Church Militant. Souls in Purgatory form the Church Suffering. Saints and Angels form the Church Triumphant. You are part of a great and wonderful community. Take time to pray for the dead. Get to know the Saints. Ask both to pray for you as you pray for and to them. This is different from how you pray to your Lord. Seek their prayers the way you seek earthly friends' prayers. Contemplate the truth of their continued existence with the Creator and what that means for your eternity too. Seek their guidance. Seek their condolence. Seek their comfort. Share their Joy! In return, offer more than you have been given.
- Invite a Priest - One afternoon or evening every four weeks - Invite your favorite priest for dinner with your kids or parents during Advent. Ask him to spend Christmas Day with your family or with a group of friends if you will be alone. He may not be able to come, but he will appreciate the offer. Many priests feel as lonely as single moms do. It is hard being a good and holy priest today. Let them know they are cared about.
- Pray Without Ceasing - Throughout the day every day - Before getting out of bed, thank God for your day. Pray the Rosary while taking a walk. Pray for farmers while grocery shopping and for those who eat as you cook. Pray for drivers and for patience on your commute. Pray while doing the dishes. Pray when your kids drive you crazy. Pray when you feel lost and alone. Pray in thanksgiving. Pray through tears. Pray through song. Make your entire life a prayer!
- Practice Gratitude - 20 minute written work daily - Let's face it...some days it's challenging to be grateful! When you find it gratitude difficult, consider how good that must mean your life is! Be grateful for simple things and write them all down. Think of things like water and air. Think of things like people and places. Think of hardships and struggles and lessons learned. The Bible says, "Be watchful! Be alert!" This applies to what you do wrong and to what you are gifted as well! Fill an entire page with gifts you've been given every day. Next Advent read what you wrote and and enjoy a year's worth of Blessings!
- Love Always - continuous and often as needed each day - The two greatest Commandments are to love God above all things and to love your neighbor as yourself. Choose to act in love even when you do not feel love. Act for God. Act for others. Act for yourself. Ask for the Wisdom to see the overlap in loving God, others, and yourself when loving seems too difficult.
- Go Out - 20 minutes daily - Inhale fresh air every day. Run. Walk. Bike. Hike. Stretch your muscles and push your body physically. Getting outdoors also clears your mind mentally. Walk at sunrise. Feel the icy wind on your cheeks. Taste the first snowflakes on your tongue. Take time to appreciate God's creation of natural beauty in the world and in you too!
- Be Starstruck - five minutes daily - Look up at the stars and allow awe to take hold. Gaze up at the velvety rich darkness. Try to imagine the incredible brilliance that make up those pinpricks of light so very far away. Realize how vast the universe is and how small you are. Spend a few minutes in the cold being grateful for the bigness of the cosmos and the tininess of you. Surrender to God who knows every star in the sky and every hair on your head.
- Fast - no time daily commitment - Lent is your big season of penance and fasting. Advent is sometimes called a mini-Lent. Do something to show God you are serious about following His ways. Show Him you will abstain when the rest of the world indulges this holiday season. Choose to sacrifice. Be humble. Do not jump into a lengthy fast unprepared. Choose one item you enjoy and avoid it until Christmas. Fast with intention. Fast for a person and a purpose. Privately present this person to the Lord when you want to sneak a bite. Trust the Lord with the longterm outcome.
- Trinity Breathing - minimum of 3 minutes 3 or more times a day - Sit alone in a quiet place. Put your hand on your chest and feel it rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale. Move your hand to your bell and do the same. Work to move your breath to your belly rather than your chest. When you can belly breath, begin trinity breathing. Breath in through your nose. Repeat, "Father. Father. Father. Father," slowly to the count of four. Hold your breath and repeat, "Son. Son. Son. Son," to the count of four. Finally, exhale through your mouth. Repeat, "Spirit. Spirit. Spirit. Spirit," at the same pace. Repeat this process asking the Father to come into your heart, the Son to stay there, and the Holy Spirit to help you bring Love to the world. Do this for three to 30 minutes several times each day.
- Study - Varied - Learn your faith by taking a class! God did not make your mind to go atrophy after graduation! There are plenty of good faith base courses out there. Many are self paced. Sign up for one and set goals to achieve each week. Be active in social media groups promoting the course for added accountability and interesting discussions!
- Unplug - varied - ADDS time to your day! - It's not just kids what are addicted to their phones. You may be too! If you are, offer your addiction up to God. Fast from technology one day a week. If a full day is too much, set time restrictions or avoid social media platforms at tempting times of the day. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Plan ahead to deal with the temptation to pick up your phone. Pray to Saint Isidore of Seville, Patron Saint of Electronics and the Internet.
- Visit the Imprisoned - once a week - It's easy to be judgmental, but God convicts no one until after death. While alive, there is hope! Take time this Advent to visit those who will not spend Christmas with loved ones. The Corporal Work of Mercy show you how! If it is unsafe for you to go to prison, join or start a prison card ministry. Find a ministry you can join and commit to being there. If you cannot find one, call a prison and ask how to get something started. If you have family serving time and you are not at risk, go visit them. If it is unsafe to do so, commit to praying for and forgiving them each day instead. The difficultly we have in doing this show us how worthy it is!
- Trust God with Your Love Life – 5 minutes and more - If you are dating someone who was Married in the eyes of God, show God you trust Him more than your feelings. Break off the relationship until both of you have an annulment. No matter how much you want this special person to be "the one" this holiday season, you cannot date a Married man. You cannot be dating as a Married woman. It is a hard but valuable teaching. Trust that God knows what He is doing. Trust His plans for good! (Read my annulment story here)
- Offer Chastity – ongoing with your partner - If you are both unmarried and in a dating relationship, this is for you! Give your relationship to God. Make a vow that, together, you will find beauty in pursuing God's Will above your personal pleasures. Drinking, partying, and peer pressure in the holidays increase your chances of breaking this vow. Know your limits. Have fun making up strategies to keep your relationship pure. If you've fallen, don't hide in shame. Don't assume it doesn't matter now. Seek forgiveness in Confession and healing in Reconciliation! Sometimes the best gifts are the ones we have to wait to understand. What a gift chastity is to you, to your partner, and to God!
- Seek Guidance – varied - Don't go it alone! We were not made to walk this path alone. It is said, "He who has himself for a lawyer has a fool for a client." What will Heaven think of those who depend on their own counsel for spiritual direction? Call your local parish and find a good spiritual director. Interview the priest before committing to future sessions. With division in the Church, be sure to choose a strong, holy, traditional priest. Your spiritual director must speak truth, especially when it is not what you or others want to hear. Be sure what he says is backed by thousands of years of Christian teaching. Make your first appointment before Christmas.
- Forgive - a second and a lifetime - Detach and let go. Forgiveness is perhaps the greatest gift you can give. It helps another, you, and the Lord. Forgiveness does not mean continued exposure. It does not mean being vulnerable in front of someone who wishes harm. Forgiveness simply means praying to give and take peace. Only Jesus can someone find peace. It is only in Jesus that someone can change. Pray he finds peace and hand him over to God. Sometimes this has to be done little bit by little bit. Sometimes you have to start new every day. Do it again and again. You have Christ. He is yours and you are His. What else matters in this fallen world?
- Be Like Saint Joseph - no additional time - With the added work of the holiday season, being like Saint Joseph is a real time saver! Others constantly give opinions. They don't listen to understand, learn, or share. They listen to form rebuttals. Saint Joseph was not like this. He says not a single word in the Bible, but he knows God's Voice so well that he follows without fear or second thoughts. Bite your tongue when you could get sucked down rabbit holes. Pray when you want to opine.
- Be Like Mary - a joyous lifetime! - You will probably never hear the Angel Gabriel hail you as "full of Grace," but you should still strive to be like Mary. Simply ask her to come into your life. Discover the miracles of Marian Consecration. Ask her to help you fulfill Biblical prophecy by reciting the words of the Angelic Salutation, "All generations shall call me Blessed." Choose modesty in dress, humility in serving, and saintly submission in veiling at Mass. Receive her Son with the trust she had for him. Do as her final words tell you. Mary's final words in the Bible are, "Go and do whatever he tells you." Allow these words, said at the Wedding at Cana, to comfort you. Know the Blessed Mother hears your struggles, feels your heartfelt cries, and sings with your joy! She knows you and loves you and wants to draw you close to her. Work on that relationship this Advent and let her lead you to her Son.
One of the beautiful things about Christianity is the you don't have to wait until New Year's Day to make changes. Advent starts the new Church year. This makes it the perfect time to start fresh. Do your best to make positive changes with simple ways to grow your faith this Advent. Start small and add on. If you don't follow through as well as you'd hoped, pick up and start again. God is bountiful in giving additional chances!
What are your thoughts on the above list? Will you try any of the above? What else you do to grow your faith in Advent or through other times of the year? I'd love to read your thoughts in the comments or in an email. I may even share your ideas in a future post and hope to inspire others to dig deeper as well! Let's grow our faith together!
If you want to share a bit of your story with me or if you would like coaching or have questions or topics you'd like me to write about, please reach out. I love hearing from my readers! Kerri