It is that time of year when many countries in the world enter “Daylight Savings Time” and collectively shift their schedules accordingly. Interestingly enough, this schedule shift occurs near the onset of the “holiday season” in North America. The implication of saving time, combined with the culturally-imposed busyness of the forthcoming season creates an interesting juxtaposition in thought. Pondering this clash of ideologies brings an important question to mind: How can we as Orthodox Christians truly “save” our time; even during the “holiday season?”
An important measure that we can take to that end is to go through our schedules now and prepare them before they are overtaken with other plans. There are a number of things that we should schedule into our “holiday season” immediately, so that we are certain that there is time for them. Here are a number of priorities which we should schedule in order to truly “save” (redeem) our time:
- “Save” time by prioritizing Church. What better way to redeem our time than to pray, worship, and be in the presence of God? Find out from your parish calendar (or priest) what additional services will celebrated during November and December. Put them into your family calendar, so that you remember them and can attend as many as possible. Challenge your family to attend more services together than you did last year.
- “Save” time by prioritizing fasting. The Nativity fast is an excellent way to prepare for Christ’s birth. Remember that fasting is not just about food; but also about refraining from excess/ judgement/unnecessary entertainment/etc. Fasting is also about giving to those in need. “The holiday season” is a perfect time to work at all of these. Brainstorm ways to work at them together as a family. Block out needed time in your family’s schedule for the fasting methods that require time (for example, helping in a soup kitchen or volunteering somewhere to help needy people). Scheduling family time to work at the different ways to fast will help you to do them better!
- “Save” time by prioritizing family devotional time. As families, we should regularly be saying prayers and reading/discussing the scriptures, as well as other books that strengthen us in our faith. If we have not developed a habit of this for our family yet, what better time to begin than in a season when we are preparing to celebrate Christ’s coming? (Read-aloud book suggestions for different age levels will be a topic for a future week. Stay tuned!)
- “Save” time by prioritizing down time. Yes, down time. During “the holidays.” One of the greatest challenges of today’s society is the constant requirement for noise, for entertainment, for socialization, etc. Each of these is escalated during “the holiday season,” and it is easy for us as Christians to get sucked into it “because, after all, it’s all about celebrating Christ’s birth!” However, the onslaught of stuff, noise, and busyness flies in the face of the still, quiet preparation that our hearts need in order to be truly prepared to celebrate Christ’s nativity. It is not wrong to say no to the busyness or to choose to miss out on some of the parties or other activities. It is different than the actions/expectations of the rest of the culture, but then again, so is our Orthodox faith! But how can we shape our schedules in a way that allows down time, especially during “the holiday season?” One family suggests sitting down now with your calendar, and blocking out days from now through the end of the year by writing something on the calendar. This family writes the word “something” on many of the evenings and weekends not already filled with church. If someone invites them to an event, they simply say, “Thank you very much for the invitation! I am sorry, but we already have something on the calendar for that day,” and it is the truth. (Note: the parents of the aforementioned family reserve the right to add something to the calendar when it already has “something;” but they take up to 24 hours to discuss it amongst themselves before getting back to the invitation giver, in attempt to maintain down time in the family. They do make exceptions to the 24 hour wait time occasionally.) Of course each family can institute their own version of this suggestion. The main idea is to block in down time, to deliberately NOT do every activity option that comes your way (which, in itself, can also be a form of fasting, too!). Note: if you do this but add things to your schedule instead of the “something” on your calendar, just be careful that you do not always ignore that “something” on the calendar. It is there to remind you to be still!
As we approach “the holidays,” let us be careful to focus on the real reason for our celebrations: the birth of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Let us not be swept into the unnecessary cultural busyness that can distract us from being still and preparing for His coming. Let us do what we can to open our schedules to the things that turn our hearts and the hearts of our children towards Christ and His great love for us.
What ideas do you have to share? Please post them below!
Following are a related quotes and/or extensions of the above suggestions:
“Unfortunately, many of us see church attendance as an obligation and a troublesome duty, rather than as a gift. We need to be mindful of the fact that living in a society of many temptations and countless mixed messages, we badly need the encouragement of one another to help us become and remain strong Christians. It is only by supporting one another that we are able to avoid distraction, remain focused, and order our priorities rightly. That is why St. Paul writes ‘Let us not give up the habit of meeting together . . . but let us encourage one another all the more.’ (Heb. 10:25).” ~ Rev Andew J Demotses, from http://www.goarch.org/resources/sermons/sermonettes/sermonettes5
“ Do you fast? Then feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick, do not forget the imprisoned, have pity on the tortured, comfort those who grieve and who weep, be merciful, humble, kind, calm, patient, sympathetic, forgiving, reverent, truthful and pious, so that God might accept your fasting and might plentifully grant you the fruits of repentance.
Fasting of the body is food for the soul.” ~ St. Basil the Great, from http://www.stgeorgegreenville.org/OurFaith/Fasting/Sayings-Church%20Fathers.html
Venerable Ephraim the Syrian had this to say about fasting:
“Let thy mind fast from vain thoughts; let thy memory fast from remembering evil; let thy will fast from evil desire; let thine eyes fast from bad sights: turn away thine eyes that thou mayest not see vanity; let thine ears fast from vile songs and slanderous whispers; let thy tongue fast from slander, condemnation, blasphemy, falsehood, deception, foul language and every idle and rotten word; let thy hands fast from killing and from stealing another’s goods; let thy legs fast from going to evil deeds: Turn away from evil, and do good.”
“Do you fast? Prove it by doing good works. If you see someone in need, take pity on them. If you see a friend being honored, don’t get jealous of him. For a true fast, you cannot fast only with your mouth. You must fast with your eye, your ear, your feet, your hands, and all parts of your body.” ~ St. John Chrysostom
“A monk complained to St. Arsenius that while reading Holy Scripture he does not feel, neither the power of the words read nor gentleness in his heart.
To that the great saint will reply to him: ‘My child, just read! I heard that the sorcerers of serpents, when they cast a spell upon the serpents, the sorcerers are uttering the words, which they themselves do not understand, but the serpents hearing the spoken words sense their power and become tamed.
An so, with us, when we continually hold in our mouths the words of Holy Scripture, but even though we do not feel the power of the words, evil spirits tremble and flee for they are unable to endure the words of the Holy Spirit.’
My child, just read!
The Holy Spirit Who, through inspired men, wrote these divine words, will hear, will understand and will hasten to your assistance; and the demons will understand will sense and will flee from you.
That is: He Whom you invoke for assistance will understand, and those whom you wish to drive away from yourself will understand. And both goals will be achieved.” ~ St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue of Ochrid (May 8)
Reading together as a family during the Nativity Fast is a good way to get into the habit of reading/praying together. And even if you don’t “feel” anything, “my child, just READ!”
Even “secular” sources suggest having quiet/still time during the holidays.
“Always plan for quiet time. It reduces exposure to holiday marketing, creates opportunities for family bonding and fosters independent children. Golin observes, ‘We can all be better about trusting our kids to entertain themselves. When reducing screen time, we don’t necessarily need to suggest activities to kids. Give them the space to be bored for a minute and be amazed at what they come up with on their own.’” (from http://www.naturalawakeningsmag.com/Natural-Awakenings/November-2014/Bring-Back-the-Magic/)