Advent and Christmas are notoriously busy. So much so, that there could be a case for not bothering to try to do anything faith at home focused and just starting again in the New Year. However, I believe it’s such a wonderful season, we would be crazy not to take advantage of the opportunities.
One way to do this is to protect family time by saying no to things we’re invited to. Christmas events are not compulsory! Just because they are fun or good or local doesn’t mean we have to go! I know this is hard, but wouldn’t it be amazing to plan in advance what faith focus you’d like this Christmas to have as a family, and choose to say yes only to events which contribute to that goal?
If this sounds like a crazy idea, you could come from the opposite direction, knowing your calendar is already filling up and mark out some blocks of time in December for you to do intentionally faith-building activities together. This might be a ten-minute space in the morning or the evening after dinner, or a Saturday afternoon early in December.
However you do it, if you are intentional, you are more likely to achieve what you aim for. Write down your goals, prioritise them, share them together, review them. You could call a family meeting to discuss what you’d like to o during the Advent season, what you’ve like to be the same or different from previous year, how you’d like to intentionally celebrate Jesus.
As well as things I’m planning intentionally, I also have a list of Things We Could Do. Most of these fall into the ‘happy holidays’ type tradition, things which are not faith focussed, but give us time as a family to have fun and do things together, which in itself is good for growing faith. Just creating space to be together, to do things together, allows us to share our faith together. I try and collect the things together we will need for these activities (mine are often baking or craft related!) which means that if we have a slot we can just choose an activity and off we go. However, if these things don’t happen, it’s fine. This gives me space to enjoy Christmas activities without feeling guilt about not getting things done.
What things could you do?
Whenever families ask me what to do at home to boost their faith, I encourage them to do things which suit their family, adding a faith element into things they already do and to strategically choose one or two new things to add a faith element they want to build.
Do things which suit your family
It’s easy to try and life someone else’s faith, or do what we imagine others are doing. Faith at home comes becomes a way that we live when we do things which suit our family. I have friends who use a family devotional at Christmas which I really like the sound of. However, they have a family devotional time, reading from a book while all sitting together most weeks during the whole year. This totally fits with the rhythm they’ve created in their home. Our home is more suited to stories, so we read a chapter of a Christmas story each night.
We need to bear in mind the season our family is currently in. When my children were under five, I didn’t read them chapter books. Instead I wrapped up 24 Christmas-linked picture books and we opened one each day and read it together. When my children are teens, maybe we will listen to a podcast together (or whatever exists in that future world!).
When they were very small, I bought a simple nativity set they could play with, throw and chew and it, and they, would still be ok. Now they are older we have a lovely hand carved wooden one and a Play Mobil one. (Who are I kidding, we have about eight or ten, but that’s for me to discuss at my Nativity Sets Anonymous Meeting!)
Our life style changes how to do things. Are you usually very busy at the weekend, maybe don’t plan big events then. Are you more busy during the week? Plan your extra thing at the weekend. Do you always have music on at home? Create a Christmas playlist, or one for each week of Christmas and enjoy some glorious worship and carols and silly Christmas songs together. Do you love ritual, quiet and candlelight? Stock up on candles and pick a great prayer you can use together during Advent.
Bring a faith element into things which you already do
Often the easiest way to ‘do more faith at home’ is to bring Jesus into something we already do. (Obviously, He’s already there, but this is about us consciously doing something to enrich our faith.)
At Christmas this might be decorating your Christmas tree as usual, then all pausing for 1 minute before you put the star or angel on the top and reflect on the year or thank God for your three favourite things this year or ask God to help you put Him at the ‘top’ of your list this season.
It could be decorating your house as usual, but adding some decorations which specifically relate to the Christmas story, such as angels or stars. We love making angel bunting, which we do with A3 paper and make giant paper dolls which are angels. We’ve also done angel topped jam tarts and angel stamped home-made wrapping paper, using a cookie cutter and red paint on lining paper (from IKEA).
It could be making a gingerbread house into a gingerbread stable – the IKEA one converts really well by leaving off one side and turning the chimney into a manger (see https://godventure.co.uk/gingerbread-nativity-scene-using-an-ikea-kit/ for details).
Strategically choose one or two new things to add a faith element you want to build.
What you want to build into your faith at home is likely to be influenced by your spiritual style. You may not have thought a lot about your faith-style, because it’s likely lots of your Christian friends share a similar one to you. But ask yourself, do you prefer to learn scripture or sing worship songs? Do you prefer helping the poor or inviting friends to events? Do you like looking at Christian art or studying the cultural background to Bible stories? None of these are bad, but there will be some which appeal to you more than others. Whichever ones you are drawn to, find a way to do that in a special way during Advent: learn the Magnificat off by heart, find a new Christmas worship album, sign up to help a social outreach happening in your area, get invites and pray about which of your friends to invite to various Christmas events at your church, collect some beautiful Christmas art to use as a reflection or collect some great non-fiction books to explore the cultural backdrop of the nativity story. DON’T DO ALL OF THESE! Just pick one!
Another way to think about what to add to your faith at home life is to think about what your family does without thinking and what element of faith might need a bit of a boost. What do you find works easily in your routine: Bible reading or serving others? Worshipping God together or sitting quietly with Him individually? The Bridger model of faith talks about faith as understand, faith as imagining, faith as trusting and faith as doing. Which of these is your family great at? Which could you work on a bit this Advent?
Whatever you choose, do it strategically and intentionally, be realistic and have fun with it! Making a faith at home plan isn’t another chance to compare yourself to others or beat yourself up about not doing it well. It’s a chance to move further in the faith you have, and it’s a life long journey. And as I have to tell myself when I’m tempted to plan too much, there’ll be another Christmas next year!