“The Lord said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ Exodus 33:1 (ESV)
When I was a little girl I dearly loved Christmas Day. While all the events leading up to Christmas were exciting (the cookie baking, letters to Santa and gift wrapping, etc.), to me they were merely steps along the path leading to the ultimate destination – Christmas morning. As soon as the weather turned cold in late November my longings for the arrival of December 25th started to churn. I counted down the December days and cursed the slowness of the calendar. Periodically (when no one was around) I would vigilantly search the house for hidden gifts (to my parents’ extreme frustration). Every Christmas Eve I listened and watched for Santa (making it quite difficult for my parents to finish their last minute gift wrapping), and rejoiced with pure delight and relief when Christmas Day finally arrived and I could run downstairs to see what wondrous surprises were waiting for me under the tree. On December 25th my joy became complete.
Now that I am (much) older, my excitement of Christmas Day has changed. Christmas is no longer just about The One Day, but about the entire four-week season of Advent leading up to Christmas. The journey is now more precious than the destination. As Thanksgiving ends, an awakening of my spirit and senses to the Advent season begins. The childish blinders that once focused my gaze toward a singular goal are gone. Now every piece of the Advent season – snow, lights, candles, cards, hope, longing – brings joy, and I pause often during the now rapid days of December to breathe in its lovely scent.
Advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means “coming” or “arrival”. Advent, for Christians, isn’t just about the arrival of baby Jesus. Advent is our longing for His return. The season of Advent makes the path and the purpose of Christmas equally sacred.
Our family kicks off Advent season with Decorating Day. Decorating Day is the day we carry up all of our boxes of Christmas decorations from the basement, open them up, and carefully and lovingly place their contents all over the house. With every newly opened box memories are unleashed. Each ornament and Christmas mug freed from its newspaper storage wrap reveals a story. Every snowman figurine and nutcracker unpacked triggers a memory. We spend the day talking, laughing, decorating and sipping hot cider. It’s hard to imagine anything more wonderful, and it’s just the beginning of all the magical moments to come over the next few weeks of Advent leading up to Christmas.
During this past Advent season I realized my parenting focus, like my Christmas focus, has changed. I am now less fixed on my future life and choose now instead to breathe in the precious aroma of the present season. From day one of their arrival in this world, our children have been destined by God to leave our homes. And sadly, as I am discovering, their time under our roof is painfully brief. No longer do I look ahead to Departure Day, I now savor the Season of Exodus.
Exodus is an English word that means departure or withdrawal. In the chapter of Exodus in the Bible, the Israelites leave their homes in Egypt to go to the promised land of Canaan. The departure was God’s plan for the Israelites. Departure is also God’s plan for our children. Departure day is coming, just like Jesus’ return is coming. And just as we soak in the beauty of waiting for Christ’s arrival, we need to soak in the daily enjoyment of our children before their departure.
When the children were little (really little) I often felt stretched thin, inadequate for the task of motherhood, and overwhelmed with life. I longed for the day when the kids would be able to do things for themselves. I am so tired of hauling this stroller around. I can’t wait to stop wearing a nursing bra. When will they walk on their own? This baby is so heavy, it’s difficult to carry him everywhere. When will the days of diapers and drool end? I struggled to delight in the present. Instead of marveling at all the little wonders and miracles going on around me, I too often pined for a future day; a day when my life would be easier. A day when the children could be independent. I longed for that day like I longed for Christmas Day. My blinders focused me on that singular event of independent children and I was missing the joys of the season.
But as my children grew older my focus began to shift away from the future to the present. I realized my children were growing up way too fast. Their season of being home was precious and fleeting and needed to be savored. In the blink of an eye my newborn was sitting up. In an instant my toddler was running. In a flash my little girl was getting married.
As God shifted my focus from the end result to the present season, things that were exasperating now became precious. A simple hug, a snuggle, a bedtime story, a conversation. They all became like glimmering little shells on the beach that, if weren’t enjoyed the moment they arrived, would wash away with the tide. Their first bike ride, a loose tooth, baking cookies, curling up with a good book. Life, I was learning, didn’t get any better than these special events. Other than Jesus, there was nothing richer. Other than worshiping God, there were no loftier moments. I stopped looking ahead to the day when life would get easier and starting living thoroughly and completely in the season of Exodus, enjoying every moment I had before it was time for their departure.
Departure Day has come for one of my children; it happened in a flash. And it is rapidly approaching for my other three. I am doubling my efforts to savor every minute I have with them at home. Last week I happily (and secretly) listened to them chatter away with one another in the bathroom while they were getting ready for bed. A few days ago I savored our late night conversation after they arrived home from a winter dance. Yesterday, I drank in the sight of them playing a board game together, freely enjoying their Christmas break from school. Every hug. Every kiss on cheek. Every joke and tear. They are all precious jewels. They are all wonderful. They are all fleeting.
Just as we take time to slow down and enjoy the season of Advent because Christmas comes so fast, we also need to take take our blinders off of the future and slow down to enjoy the present with our children because their departure comes too quickly. Enjoy your Exodus season and have a Blessed Christmas.