It is that time of year when many countries in the world enter “Daylight Savings Time” and collectively shift their schedules accordingly. Interestingly enough, this schedule shift occurs near the onset of the “holiday season” in North America. The implication of saving time, combined with the culturally-imposed busyness of the forthcoming season creates an interesting juxtaposition in thought. Pondering this clash of ideologies brings an important question to mind: How can we as Orthodox Christians truly “save” our time; even during the “holiday season?”
An important measure that we can take to that end is to go through our schedules now and prepare them before they are overtaken with other plans. There are a number of things that we should schedule into our “holiday season” immediately, so that we are certain that there is time for them. Here are a number of priorities which we should schedule in order to truly “save” (redeem) our time:
- “Save” time by prioritizing Church. What better way to redeem our time than to pray, worship, and be in the presence of God? Find out from your parish calendar (or priest) what additional services will celebrated during November and December. Put them into your family calendar, so that you remember them and can attend as many as possible. Challenge your family to attend more services together than you did last year.
- “Save” time by prioritizing fasting. The Nativity fast is an excellent way to prepare for Christ’s birth. Remember that fasting is not just about food; but also about refraining from excess/ judgement/unnecessary entertainment/etc. Fasting is also about giving to those in need. “The holiday season” is a perfect time to work at all of these. Brainstorm ways to work at them together as a family. Block out needed time in your family’s schedule for the fasting methods that require time (for example, helping in a soup kitchen or volunteering somewhere to help needy people). Scheduling family time to work at the different ways to fast will help you to do them better!
- “Save” time by by prioritizing family devotional time. As families, we should regularly be saying prayers and reading/discussing the scriptures, as well as other books that strengthen us in our faith. If we have not developed a habit of this for our family yet, what better time to begin than in a season when we are preparing to celebrate Christ’s coming? (Read-aloud book suggestions for different age levels will be a topic for a future week. Stay tuned!)
- “Save” time by prioritizing down time. Yes, down time. During “the holidays.” One of the greatest challenges of today’s society is the constant requirement for noise, for entertainment, for socialization, etc. Each of these is escalated during “the holiday season,” and it is easy for us as Christians to get sucked into it “because, after all, it’s all about celebrating Christ’s birth!” However, the onslaught of stuff, noise, and busyness flies in the face of the still, quiet preparation that our hearts need in order to be truly prepared to celebrate Christ’s nativity. It is not wrong to say no to the busyness or to choose to miss out on some of the parties or other activities. It is different than the actions/expectations of the rest of the culture, but then again, so is our Orthodox faith! But how can we shape our schedules in a way that allows down time, especially during “the holiday season?” One family suggests sitting down now with your calendar, and blocking out days from now through the end of the year by writing something on the calendar. This family writes the word “something” on many of the evenings and weekends not already filled with church. If someone invites them to an event, they simply say, “Thank you very much for the invitation! I am sorry, but we already have something on the calendar for that day,” and it is the truth. (Note: the parents of the aforementioned family reserve the right to add something to the calendar when it already has “something;” but they take up to 24 hours to discuss it amongst themselves before getting back to the invitation giver, in attempt to maintain down time in the family. They do make exceptions to the 24 hour wait time occasionally.) Of course each family can institute their own version of this suggestion. The main idea is to block in down time, to deliberately NOT do every activity option that comes your way (which, in itself, can also be a form of fasting, too!). Note: if you do this but add things to your schedule instead of the “something” on your calendar, just be careful that you do not always ignore that “something” on the calendar. It is there to remind you to be still!
As we approach “the holidays,” let us be careful to focus on the real reason for our celebrations: the birth of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Let us not be swept into the unnecessary cultural busyness that can distract us from being still and preparing for His coming. Let us do what we can to open our schedules to the things that turn our hearts and the hearts of our children towards Christ and His great love for us.
What ideas do you have to share? Please post them below!
Following are a few ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn about (and hopefully implement) the above measures for redeeming their time.
Encourage your students to make coming to church (and Sunday Church School!) a priority, even during busy times like during the holiday season. Talk together about why it is important to come to church. http://catholicblogger1.blogspot.com/2008/10/ccd-lesson-plan-church-respect.html gives a variety of ideas (Roman Catholic, but adaptable) about ways to teach children how to be respectful when in church.
Older Sunday Church School Students can read one or both of these articles: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/21/opinion/sunday/luhrmann-why-going-to-church-is-good-for-you.html?_r=0 or http://hillsong.com/blogs/collected/2014/september/99-reasons-you-should-go-to-church-this-weekend#.VFwZDTCJOuY. After reading the article, discuss why going to church is good for the students. Be sure to also tell the students why it is good for you. Since it is good for you, encourage the students to think of (and maybe make a list of) ways to make sure that church attendance is a priority for them.
Find a printable activity page on fasting geared for the middle grades, at http://www.orthodoxabc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/008-EN-ed05_Keeping-Lent.pdf.
Teach your Sunday Church School students about the importance of prayer. This three-lessons-on-prayer link may give you some ideas: http://www.kidssundayschool.com/45/lesson/why-pray.php.
Consider helping your Sunday Church School students make prayer more of a priority in their personal lives by giving them the gift of an age-appropriate prayer book. Possible books could include: http://store.ancientfaith.com/childrens-orthodox-prayer-book/; http://store.ancientfaith.com/special-agents-of-christ/; or http://store.ancientfaith.com/products/My-Prayer-Book.html.
Check out this article on simplifying your own life: http://ajjuliani.com/5-rules-to-simplify-your-life/. Consider how you can do so, so that you are able to be better at the things that you do, such as teaching Sunday Church School!