It’s coming….are you ready?

“So, are you Catholic?”

Okay, I have to back up and tell a little of what happened before that question, but you have to hear that the question came with just the slightest inclination of a sneer. Just that hint, well, maybe more than a hint, of judgment.

Seriously, I mean, are you?

Here’s the story. The boys go to tutorial on Tuesdays (maybe I should begin referring to the boys as “the Trio”, that would work well with the Tuesday Tutorial…) so Miss Maddie and I stopped off at a small local coffee shop. This place is one of my favorites. The owner actually built the shop around the cabin has been in his family for ages and the wood floors date back to the 1800’s, I believe. The wood panelling in the main room is from the 70’s and his dad put it there, so it stays.

This is not Starbuck’s. This is a local spot, with local folks who stay for hours and are regulars. Maddie was playing a few toys that were there and I was talking with two men who asking about her. The questions turned eventually to if she was caught up in the “tech toys”.  I think they were pleased to see that she wasn’t playing on the iPad or other instrument at the moment and was having fun exploring.

I told her she knew her way around the computer and most of the other toys, and that like most families we were pretty tied to our technology. I just in passing mentioned that we had been thinking about taking a break from technology for Advent.

Advent.

That did it.  They didn’t hear what I said about technology any more, but they heard that one word and it labelled me in their minds.

“So, are you Catholic?

Honestly, it took me a second to figure out why on earth they were asking me about my denominational background. Then he clarified, “Advent. You do that stuff?”  When I told him I was not Catholic, but we that as a family we try to respect the season of Advent and let it stand apart, he asked why.

While I was trying to formulate a response…and still engaging Maddie…something else happened that surprised me.

“Our church is celebrating Advent.” This man is a pastor who studies at the coffee shop. I see him there often, although I’ve only talked to him a little because he is usually fairly focused on his studying. “We’re Baptist, but we observe elements of the Church Calendar. Advent. Reformation Sunday. You don’t have to be Catholic.”

That was that. We both simply said that the celebration of “Advent” meant to focus for an extended time on Christ through the Christmas season. Then we left it at that. It is not that the other men were mean, they just had always associated Advent with a part of the Church they disregard.

That’s dangerous…we miss out sometimes when we do that.

I’m thankful that the understanding of Advent seems to have spread beyond just liturgical churches. We need the rhythm of the Church Calendar. We need the help in the hectic pace of our lives to focus.

With Thanksgiving coming late this year, Advent starts immediately after, and that is coming quickly. Steve and I are praying about shutting down the technology for the season of Advent. Shutting out some of the noise, and some of the frustration of having to tell the kids to get off for the ninth time.

Shutting down some of the input so that our focus can turn to the truth of the Season.  I don’t know about you, but we need help sometimes. Sometimes it takes more than a few hours to draw our focus to Christ during Christmas, or even a few days when school is done and Christmas Day is near. Sometimes a few weeks is what is needed.

So, no, I’m not Catholic. There are some things we can learn from each other in the church, though. We can learn a bit about slowing down and focusing during this season.

It’s almost here. Are you ready? Are you making ready?

The decorations may up and the presents bought…but how are we preparing ourselves spiritually to focus during the onslaught of advertising and “want” during this season? Google Advent 2013 and there are numerous resources. We are going to use the one from  Matt Chandler’s church, The Village Church. 

I’ll write more about what this actually looks like in the coming days. Although I won’t be writing during the Advent Season, since, you know, I won’t be on the computer. We have to work out the details of how we make this work in a way that it doesn’t feel like punishment to the kids. That would be the worst…to have the idea of Advent tied to misery. Nope. That is not what it is about. It’s all about anticipation and hope and focus.

A morning walk of thoughts and … squirrel!

I love mornings that start well. Sets the tone for the whole day…and maybe it is also that extra spring in the step of a Friday.

I was up early, the sun is shining (again…after a day of storms). Yes, the birds are chirping. I was able to get my mile walk in this morning before the kids were up (I walk around our cul-de-sac so they can find me if they need me. Don’t call social services).

As I was walking I was struck by something, as usually happens. This is my time to pray, and I realized that in the space of one lap, 1/3 of a mile, I went through the following topics:

Thanking God for the gorgeous morning.

My health…good.

My kids…which led to thoughts and prayers and out their spiritual life and about homeschool. Which led to thoughts and prayers about curriculum and tutorial choices for next year.
Those thoughts were interrupted by thoughts about the one boy yesterday who just.could.not.finish.his.work.

Refocus, and prayers for my dad and mom as they continue in the journey and tedium of dementia.

Which led to thoughts about family. Trip this summer.

That led to thoughts about finances. Which was interrupted by thoughts about things I’d like to do.

That was interrupted by the fact that I was out of breath for the moment…financial thoughts always make me walk faster.

Then I thought about friends I would like to connect with soon…and prayers for them.

All…in the span of 1/3 of a mile.

My thoughts jump. They interrupt themselves and distract my focus.
Squirrel!

We’ve all been there. It was still a good morning and time of prayer…but I had to fight for that focus. Back to the boy who couldn’t finish his work yesterday. He was distracted, he was fidgety and he just couldn’t get it done. Mostly his reading.  We are such a fragmented people, and so inundated with competing demands for our attention.

We have just one more month of school and we will have completed our first year. There have been some great things and some areas where I know we need work, but there is one area that keeps coming back to me….

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still.

Focus.

Taking every thought captive to obedience in Christ

This is not something that simply happens to us. Without discipline, my thoughts are all over the place. Without discipline the school work does not get done. Without discipline…it is difficult (impossible?) to contemplate and meditate and focus on God. To be still and know that He is.

That is the area that underlies everything for me in the homeschool venture. To provide the space and the atmosphere and the encouragement…and the requirement…that my kids learn to be still, to silence the distractions, to take their thoughts captive. Maybe only for five minutes, maybe for an hour…but to learn this discipline. They need it to progress in their studies, but they need it vitally in their spiritual life.

I remember reading Thomas Merton responding to a letter where someone said it must be easier to be quiet and spend time in contemplation when you are a hermit. They were desiring that space for solitude and contemplation, and Merton responded that if we cannot find silence and solitude in the room with the television and the distractions we will go crazy in the cabin in the woods. Our thoughts will weigh down on us and distract us and frustrate us. We have to learn the discipline of being still right here…in the midst of all the noise.

I have to admit it took a lap or two before I settled in to prayers that were focused and not jumbled. Thoughts that were held longer than a fleeting moment. Now as we sit down to start school…the reminder is there. Learn to focus. Hold this thought in your mind…don’t be distracted.

Discipline.

Capture your thoughts and do not let them capture you.