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The Mabry Nauta family Advent wreath

The Mabry Nauta family Advent wreath

My family gathers around our new Advent wreath, and I say a prayer of thanksgiving. After saying for years that we should practice Advent properly — with a wreath, daily family devotions, focusing on preparing our hearts for Jesus’ coming, and a lack of Christmas chaos — we are finally doing it.

My 8-year-old runs to her room to get the Bible that our church gave her so that she may read today’s passage. It is pink, leather-bound, and monogrammed with her name. She is proud of it. Sophia stumbles through some of the words, but keeps going. I wonder if she can feel the love and pride that my husband and I are emanating. Hubby and I look at one another, share parental pride smiles, and turn back to look at Sophia. She is wholly ours.

What a gift.

At the same time, my 6-year-old runs to her room. Not to be outdone due to her minimal reading skills, she grabs her Bible coloring book. Zoe picked out this coloring book on purpose. “See what I got?” she says. She smiles proudly at the rest of us. Maybe the rituals of the wreath, lighting the candle, reading Scripture and the devotion, and discussing today’s topic are over her head. But, she gets it. She knows we’re having family God time, and she knows it’s important.

Such a treasure.

The devotion leads Sophia, Eric, and me to discuss what distracts us from being in tune with God. Sophia says that some of her struggles get her off track. She forgets that God is with her and loves her. I confess that building my writing platform puts me into a tizzy. I fall into the trap of checking and re-checking numbers so much that I lose sight of what is in front of me. I fail my family when I do this. Hubby says that it’s hard to be the sole breadwinner. He stresses about feeding our family and paying our bills. I need to remember, Eric says, that God provides for us. Zoe looks up from coloring Joseph’s coat of many colors. “I’m thankful for our family,” she says, and thereby breaks the tension.

It’s not just my family that gets distracted and feels distant from God. We all do it. It’s part of our sinful nature. “We sometimes have trouble feeling God’s love,” writes Keri Wyatt Kent in Deeply Loved.[1] And when we feel this way, we can be sure that it’s not God who moved.

There is something we can do about this, though — practices in which we can engage, and ways we can train our hearts so that we can know God’s love “personally and profoundly.”[2]

Jesus tells us at the end of the Gospel of Matthew that he is always with us. This means that there is no time in which we can’t sense his presence by the power of the Holy Spirit. All we gotta do is pay attention. Unfortunately, it’s the paying attention part that often stumps us. It’s way easy to get distracted and forget that the world indeed does not revolve around us and our contributions to it.

So, when we do get off course, when for whatever reason we can’t feel Jesus’ presence, we need to slow down, take a time out, and turn our thoughts towards God. We can do this by thinking about what Jesus would do in our current situation; praying silently or out loud; taking a walk and acknowledging God’s handiwork in creation; intentionally looking for the image of God in another human being; singing or humming a hymn or praise tune that inspires us; and practicing a random act of kindness for others with the two greatest commandments in mind. These are but a few examples.

Brother Lawrence

Brother Lawrence, a seventeenth century monk, calls doing these and other things that focus us on God the practicing God’s presence. Practicing God’s presence reignites our awareness of and attentiveness to God. And, it reminds us how deeply, widely, and unendingly God loves us. After all, if God didn’t love us, why would God hang around and acknowledge us at all? Why the prophets? Why the Incarnation? Why the cross? Why the empty tomb?

I sing a song to my girls each night as I tuck them into bed. On the nights that I’m tired and showing signs of slacking, they prod me. “Mama, you need to sing our song to me.” It’s both a prayer and an affirming mantra. My oldest says that she takes it with her in her heart, so that when she’s feeling down, she sings it to herself.

It strikes me last night when I put my little ladies to bed that I’ve inadvertently developed for them a tool for practicing God’s presence. Perhaps it will bless you, too.

You are loved,
You are beautiful,
An angel of God,
God’s own creation.

You’re a gift to Mom and Dad,
God’s gift of love to us.

You are loved,
God danced the day you were born.

May you begin this Advent season practicing God’s presence, and delight as much in the Lord as God does in you.

[1]   Keri Wyatt Kent, Deeply Loved: 40 Ways in 40 Days to Experience the Heart of Jesus, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2012), 2-3.

[2]   Keri Wyatt Kent, Deeply Loved, 2.


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