When author Toni Morrison was once asked how she became a great writer, she responded, “I am a great writer because when I was a little girl and walked into a room where my father was sitting, his eyes would light up. That is why I am a great writer.”
That’s a great lesson in parenting and, as we enter the season of Advent, it’s also a wonderful parable of faith. Children naturally get excited when December rolls around and their thoughts turn to presents, parties and Santa. But even as their excitement level rises, we adults sometimes respond with a corresponding drop in energy and life. To put it bluntly, our eyes are not always bright when December and Advent arrive. We’re just too tired.
The truth is, we all sometimes get a bit drowsy during these cold, short, often dreary and dark winter days leading up to Christmas. We get tired of our jobs, tired of the holiday rush and the onslaught of shopping and parties, tired of our responsibilities and the seeming sameness of our lives. We get physically tired and emotionally tired. And, yes, we get spiritually tired. Our prayer life can become listless or non-existent. Our family life can feel dogged and overwhelming. Our sacramental life can begin to feel like we’re on autopilot. Our hearts, just as Jesus warns us in Luke 21:34, can become “drowsy.”
So if we ever want December to become more than gift-giving season for us and our children, we need to wake up. We need to greet the season with bright eyes that remind us–and tell our children–that there’s more to it than meets the eye in the department store window.
Our children will only learn to yearn for Jesus and be people of faith when they see us living our Christianity to its utmost. Like Toni Morrison seeing the light in her father’s eyes, our children must see the light in ours when we practice our faith. They must see in us that Advent is a holy season of anticipation that calls for increased prayer and more time spent together as a family. They must see us sing and pray and work for the body of Christ. They must see us kneel in adoration and see us cry real tears of sorrow and forgiveness and joy. A faith that is any less real, any less bright-eyed, will often fail to motivate them to emulate it.
As parents, we can’t help but become tired at times, but we can fight our drowsy hearts by renewing our spiritual energy. For just as the body needs food to power it through life, our souls need the energy that comes from God’s spiritual food—prayer, community, scripture. We need to eat. We need to wake up. We need to protect our hearts and our souls from drowsiness so we can offer them up to God while we are fully alive and fully awake.
As we make our way through the journey of Advent, let’s remember the journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a road fueled by faith and nourished by the Holy Spirit. Let’s call upon that same faith and that same Spirit to awaken us and fill us with life and meaning. Let’s make Advent a time of awakening, a time to renew our relationships with the sources of our life and joy—our God, our Church and our families.