December 24, 2012

Observing Silence Before Perfection by Cynthia Schroeder

I have never been one to like admitting when I'm wrong...or even when I've fallen behind. Truth be told, I've been wrong a lot (and by a lot, I mean a whole heck of a lot)...and it bothers me.

Undoubtedly, this kind of motivation and frustration can go hand in hand when you are a perfectionist. When you think that God observes you by the deeds you perform - and the will behind them - and waits to pat you on the back with a,“Well done, good and faithful servant. You nailed it...perfectly.” When you are a perfectionist, those are the only words you want to hear. Forget about finding His happiness when you fail. When you fall behind. When you are lazy. When you lack the appropriate amount of faith.

When you “fail” at observing Advent.

I have been reading some amazing posts this month on Bonnie's blog. Each day has provided some of the best advice I've ever heard on keeping these days special while leading up to Our Lord's birth. The heart-wrenching posts, the suggestions, the recipes, the motivations – all so poignant for this constant learner.

You see, I didn't understand the meaning of Advent until about the age of 24.  My parents were well-intentioned, but never really had any major religious traditions outside of putting up Christmas decorations and going to Mass with everyone else. I was always taught that Christmas was Christ's birthday, but beyond that, we never surrounded ourselves with any physical preparations for the big day. We never had the purple and pink candles, the wreath, the Jesse Tree, the “stand-off” with the St. Nick vs. Santa question. It wasn't until having a family of my own that these physical “things” took a mere grip on my face and shook me into the surprising submission of confusion and angst.

“Woman, wake up! What have you been doing with your faith life this whole time!!?? What kind of children will you be raising if you don't light those darn candles!??!” (No one ever said overreacting wasn't also one of my strong suits).

For me, with angst comes frustration. With frustration comes immobility. With immobility comes a sense of failure. It was all I could do to not cry heavy tears when the fourth Advent candle was lit during mass last year. I turned to my husband and mouthed, “BUT Josh, we haven't really done anything yet!”

For four years running, this delicious pattern has miraculously played itself out the same way. We set up the Advent decorations. We have good intentions...and then life happens. Children happen. Things get broken. Parents fall asleep before planning out a fun activity for the next get the idea. It seemed like observing the appropriate Catholic “waiting” game just wasn't going to be a strong suit of mine. I had failed...and in my mind, that meant that I also failed God and my family. So, in an appropriate (mature) response, I've sulked and pouted, as only a 31 year-old pregnant woman can.

A few days ago it occurred to me that perhaps I should be tackling some actual prayer to figure this situation out. For me to step outside the hurtful voice inside my head and talk to the One who probably had been desiring to teach me a thing or two anyway.

So, a few days ago, I plopped down on the floor of my room, criss-crossed my legs around the 7- month belly that has been growing, and stared at an old picture of Jesus. I began to observe its faded appearance. His intentional stare. It's always been one of my favorites. Simple and honest. Which is undoubtedly what I needed to be...

“Jesus,” I began, “I am sorry. I've been so lazy. You know this.  I've tried too hard to keep up appearances on the outside, but not to maintain my heart. I hate this feeling so much. Why are tasks like this so overwhelming for me?”


“ Lord, what do YOU (or did You) want me to do this Advent? How can I serve You the way I should?”

Then it came to me:

“Cynthia, start with silence. After that, come to Me and get to know Me..”

As I rolled this answer around in my head, I realized how wrong I'd been from the beginning. Where in all the worrying and carrying on with outwardly perfection...was Jesus? Where was my prayer? My sacrifice? My honesty? How could I have missed all this?

Stopping for a minute, I browsed through the weeks in my mind. I realized that in spite of forgetting to observe major traditions, my husband and I did continue the small and simple ones. We prayed, every night, for those who needed our prayers. We gave of our resources to families who needed them. We had been reading the Nativity story about as frequently as we breathe (our youngest has found this his favorite book and won't be persuaded toward anything else).

In fact, just yesterday I was told that the babe in my belly is like the “baby in Mama Mary's tummy.” Baby Jesus grew up to be a man who had “owies” for us so that we could live with Him and His Father in Heaven, etc. Miraculously, my kids, somehow, even with my lack of direction and planning, still know this stuff. 

That's when it hit me: it's not about me.
It never was and never will be.
It's about Him..and He's powerful enough to take matters into His own hands when need be.

Jesus desires to know us. All of us. He desires our hearts and in turn desires to give us love in return. Suddenly it occurred to me that no matter what kind of Advent practices will get you there, as long as we try, we have one more gift to lay at His feet in the manager. Not our perfection (or our fierce desire for it) but our love.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

(Matthew 11:28-30)

We just need to show up and try.

I imagine how special it was to be one of the wise men or the Blessed Mother, herself, in the stable that night. Watching and admiring in silence, marveling at the tiny miracle that came unto the earth so as to take a part in our salvation history. A God that allowed Himself to be like one of us in order to know us, to sympathize with us, to save us; to love us.

Out of reverence, out of thanks...I am reminded of how important it is to receive that love this Christmas - that gift – and pay it forward for as long as we live. That's what Christmas is all about, is it not? He came to earth to take our place. Let's meet him in the stable this Christmas bringing Him all that we have without shame...even if it seems like the gift may be absolutely nothing perfect at the time. Perhaps even three weeks late. Give it anyway.

This, I believe, is perfection to Him.

Cynthia is a stay-at-home mom of two, with one soon on the way. She likes to pretend that her head is filled with all sorts of interesting things, but in reality, she just thinks about food. She loves her faith, her family and life's random moments...and doesn't mind sharing these details in the blog, Finding Great Joy.

For more posts on Advent traditions and reflections check out the Advent series.


  1. "start with silence. After that, come to Me and get to know Me..” <- this gave me chills!

    I love your perspective. Perfection is a heavy burden and I can now see the relief at leaving this at His feet.

  2. Thank you for this post! It is hard to figure it all out as an adult. It's good to be reminded you don't have to get it all "right".

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