While the world around us is awash in green and red decorations, we Catholic caregivers are called to set aside these weeks before Christmas to prepare in different ways. We will likely try to attend to the normal traditions of the season as we address cards, purchase gifts and attend social functions. But for those of us who are also caregivers, Advent is a needed season to prepare our hearts in a special way for the coming of Jesus.

advent candlesOur proximity to our loved ones may make this season emotional or burdensome. We may already feel tired and overwhelmed. We perhaps have so much on our plates that we can’t imagine doing more. We may even balk at the prospect of “celebrating” when those for whom we care are suffering.

All of these factors actually make Advent a wonderful opportunity. I will admit that as I saw my twitter and instagram feeds fill with friends’ “perfect” Advent preparations, I began to panic. My Advent season will be different this year as I again travel to visit with my parents and see to my mom’s ongoing care. I doubt my wreath will be lit every night, but now more than ever my heart longs for quiet daily time with God. It’s in my silent moments with God that I receive the resources I need to serve my loved ones with patience, humility and love.

I was delighted to find some needed encouragement in the book Domestic Monastery by Ronald Rolheiser, OMI. While encouraging parents of young children, Fr. Rolheiser calls the monastery “a place to learn the value of powerlessness and a place to learn that time is not ours, but God’s”. Reiterating the monastery bell as a never-to-be-ignored call to work, prayer, meals and rest, he reminds parents of our opportunity to serve our little ones. “A parent hears the monastic bell many times during the day,” he writes, “and has to drop things in mid-sentence and respond, not because they want to, but because it’s time for that activity and time isn’t one’s own, but God’s.”

These words ring true for those of us who provide hands-on or emotional care for anyone, regardless of their age. So this Advent, we may not take an hour daily to pray over printed devotionals. We may instead feed, bathe or change our parents. In caring for them, we’re offered a daily opportunity to treat them as we might the Christ child, who too needed tender care.

This Advent, let’s search for small but significant ways to ready our souls:

  1. Place a set of flameless, timer scheduled Advent candles in your loved one’s room or common area. These are safe and can be set to automatically light up each evening.

  2. Consider praying with the wonderful Hallow App’s Advent meditation challenge. You can choose from ten, fifteen, or 20 minute periods of calming introspection. I have used these meditations with my father to aid him with controlling the anxiety he experiences as a caregiving spouse.

  3. Use this season well to embrace the stories of your loved ones. This year during Advent,I hope to focus on hearing and sharing my parents’ favorite holiday memories. Consider capturing these moments with audio or video recordings if your family members feel comfortable being recorded. Ask leading questions but be sure to spend more time listening than talking.

  4. Savor the sounds of the season. Traditional Christmas carols will likely prompt recollections. Consider creating a playlist of your loved one’s favorites on a free music streaming service and be ready to enjoy any stories the songs prompt.

  5. Invoke the various saints whose lives we celebrate this Advent season as intercessors and prayer companions for your journey as a caregiver.

  6. Lighten your load and focus on what matters most. This year, I plan to share with my friends on social media that we won’t be sending a Christmas card. Our children have been informed that gifts will be fewer this year and that the gift we desire most from them is their loving prayers. Minimizing my stress level and extra commitments will help me be a more loving and patient caregiver.

In his recent apostolic letter on the significance of the traditional crèche, Pope Francis reminds us that in gazing upon these holiday fixtures in our homes, we are reminded that God never leaves us alone: “His closeness brings light where there is darkness and shows the way to those dwelling in the shadow of suffering.” As we journey to Christmas this year, let us be reminded of the Holy Family and their beautiful vocation to care for one another. With this reminder before us, we can rest in the knowledge that we are not alone in our desire to provide good care. God sees our efforts, offers mercy when we fall short, and has a perfect plan of hope for our loved ones.

I’d love to hear from you about how you and your family will be spending this Advent season. What challenges are you facing? How do you expect to be stretched, encouraged and prepared to better see the face of Christ in your loved one? How will this season help you to more peacefully celebrate the true season of Christmas?