[At Bible Study last week, someone mentioned celebrating Advent with their children. I do believe that I groaned. Out loud.
Forgive me, Baby Jesus.
I am barely keeping afloat with homeschooling most days; I am not ready to add advent into our daily schedule.
My friend, Jenny Frohn, got super excited as we were talking though. She had already planned her activities and was bursting with knowledge and resources about the topic. But what drew me to her the most was when she would say things like, "We made it flexible." "Oh, I just hand-drew that - took me three minutes."
I could potentially handle that kind of advent.
So, I asked Jenny to guest-blog about her plans. She has put together an awesome post and even took her own pictures (in the blog-world, that's like saying she performs her own stunts!).
I'm sharing what Jenny has to say because I want to be that person who gets excited about celebrating advent - not the person who groans. After all, as parents, we are "leading our kids to the manger."]
My Struggle: Wanting to be THAT Mom
I caught a glimpse of her wandering eyes over her bowl of Cheerios one sunny August morning. “Are you even listening to me? You know, we don’t have to do this.” I cringe remembering my attempt to induce guilt into the heart of my sweet daughter. I was trying so hard to make daily devotions a part of her morning routine. I wanted so badly to be THAT mom.
You know the one. You’ve seen her on Pinterest… showing you how creative that “Elf on the Shelf” was today when he got into the baking supplies. Or the one on Facebook… updating her status to let the world know that she and her toddler just completed a hand-made ornament together without any fit or coloring on the table in the process.
Comparisons bring such pressure, such stress, such unrealistic expectations. God gets a little more of my heart each day, and he’s in the messy process of teaching me to be who he created ME to be.
A Little About Me
God has given me a passion for sharing His incomprehensible yet simple love with kids and families. I graduated with a degree in Children’s Ministry and have led kids and families in day cares, camps, and churches. I tell you this, not to share any “credentials,” but to let you know that if anyone struggles with “Pintrest Envy,” as Ginger puts it, in the area of Christian parenting, I do. I struggle. Every. Single. Day. If I can be a part of leading other people’s kids to Jesus, shouldn’t I be able to lead my own?
Ginger has asked me to share with you what my family is doing to build anticipation during this advent season for the coming of Jesus. Remember that advent celebrates the coming of Jesus as a baby more than 2 thousand years ago, as well as the future second coming of our Lord.
“Tips” as You Lead Your Kids to the Manger
I’d love to share what we are planning to do this year (after all, I get super excited about this stuff!), but first, let me encourage you to consider these reminders as you lead your kids to the manger this advent season.
Lighten Your Load
Your Christmas baggage may be different from mine. Maybe it’s trying to please your in-laws. Maybe it’s missing a loved one. Maybe your bag is filled with depression, regret, pain, and heart-ache. Don’t forget that God loves you in the midst of your joy and pain. You don’t have to perform for Him. Just surrender your Christmas baggage, and He will lighten your load.
“In me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” -John 16:33
Focus on Him
At Christmas, we remember the anticipation of those who lived long ago: longing for God to send a messiah to bring hope, peace, and eternal joy. At the same time, we celebrate because Immanuel has come and will come again! Sometimes we get so busy doing for others that we forget to be with our Lord. It’s ok to say “no” to the urgent so that you might say “yes” to the important. Don't make the same mistake I’ve made. Remember why you are celebrating Christmas! Let His Word come alive, and bring your gift of worship to the King!
Just Be You
Stop comparing yourself to others. This is a big mistake I make. God has created us differently for a reason. Take the pressure off yourself and just be you! Remember, you are the parent God chose for your children. He has a unique plan and purpose for your family.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” -Ephesians 2:10
Just as God’s gift to us was Immanuel (God with us) at Christmas, you can give your children the gift of “presence.” Keep focused on Christ and reflect His love for your family.
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” -John 1:14
So, with that being said, here’s what our family plans to do this Advent. (Notice I said “plans”? That’s because I know going into this that it will not go like I planned. But, if I’m looking for God at work, hopefully, His will be done inspite of mine.) :O) You won’t find glamorous wrapping or elaborate ideas this year from me. After all, I’m the mom to a five-year-old and two-year-old. We’re keeping it simple and intentional.
Anticipating Jesus Together
1. Use the items you already have around your house to introduce Jesus and breathe meaning into your advent celebration. We set out our Little People Nativity each year. Babies can chew on a camel. Toddlers can make the animal sounds. Preschoolers can play dramatically. It’s an open invitation to visit Jesus all day.
2. Read together. I purposely put away our Christmas books all year. Then, when I set them under the Christmas tree, there is a basket of endless journeys and stories waiting for my children to discover at their leisure.
Cuddling up with a book is already a part of our bedtime routine. My five-year-old is currently interested in reading chapter books together. I recently found a great resource - Charlie and Noel: An Advent Calendar Story by Franziska Macur for $4.99 on Amazon. It includes a chapter for each day of advent, discussion questions, and Christ-centered activities. (While I’m not realistically planning on doing the extension activities, I’m hoping she’ll at least answer a question or two.)
3. Count Down the days together. You probably already have Christmas traditions and meaningful activities your family does together. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Be who God made you to be, a parent hand-picked to guide your children to Jesus. Find a Christ-centered, meaningful way to count down the days until Christmas that works for your family’s schedule, the age of your children, and your interests. Maybe you like the outdoors? Maybe you share an interest for baking? Painting? Sports? Be creative! Here’s how we plan to count down the days until Christmas:
I was blessed to find this amazing advent calendar at Goodwill one year. Both my two-year-old boy and five-year-old girl love opening a door every morning in December to find another magnetic piece to the nativity. They love placing the characters (sometimes in silly places) and waiting to see who will be behind the door tomorrow!
This year, I pulled out some markers (difficult for this non-artistic perfectionist) and drew 24 crude drawings on scrap paper and stuffed each one in an envelope. Each of these drawings displays a very simple family activity that we were already planning to include in our Christmas celebration. My kids can open the envelope I give them each day of advent!
Some of the family activities I’ve included:
-Read a Christmas book
-Hang candy canes
-Drive around and look at Christmas lights
-Visit the library
-Make hot chocolate
-Family game night
-Christmas breakfast (this means putting Christmas sprinkles on their cereal or eggs; told you, I’m all about simple)
-Christmas family movie night
-Make ornament gifts
-Act out the Christmas story for family
-Go on a Christmas Journey (a free, live nativity at a local church)
-Watch What’s in the Bible; Why Do We Call it Christmas (If you don’t have this movie, you must watch it! You will learn how we came to practice all the strange, yet meaningful traditions of Christmas.)
Note: I chose simple activities that are already a part of our plans AND I get to decide what fits into our schedule for that day. The goal should never be to “stay busy” or “fill your calendar”. Simple, meaningful gestures that foster peace and joy are the goal. Don’t make the mistake I have and complicate the season. You’ll find yourself forgetting about Jesus and pulling out your hair. Be prepared to skip activities and change things at the last minute. Give yourself and your family some grace. Remember: You are drawing young hearts and minds to focus on Immanuel, God with us, in the midst of distractions this Christmas.
Also, older kids might be ready for more of a leadership role, taking ownership of the advent “agenda”. Let them lead and come up with their own ideas. You’ll be amazed at their creativity, I’m sure!
Just a Few Additional Resources
(to help you, not overwhelm you)
Advent Wreath, Candles and Calendars
Focus on the Family’s Thriving Family Magazine has some great resources for families.
A Jesse Tree is an advent tree that tells the story of God’s salvation plan, beginning with creation and continuing through the Old Testament, to the coming of the Messiah.
Truth in the Tinsel
This book is very similar to the idea of the Jesse Tree, but simplified for even young children.
[There you go! Jenny called her plans "simple and intentional." That's the type of advent season I long for.
Be sure and show Jenny some love here on the blog or on my Facebook page. I really appreciate her sharing her heart and her plans. She's a pretty sweet gal who is preparing her family not only for the Christmas season, but also a life-altering move to Berlin where they'll share the Good News of Christ with many. You can check out her family's New Mission Systems International page and join their team in prayer on their Facebook page.]