As I’ve gotten older, there have been fewer and fewer presents under the Christmas tree. What do you get the mom who has everything? There are no more toys to shop for, as my brother and I have grown up and grandkids are not yet in the picture.
When I reflect on this, admittedly, I feel a bit of sadness. While I’m not a materialistic person, I sometimes long for the nostalgia of running down the stairs and marveling at the outcome of Santa’s nighttime visit. It’s an end of an era, so to speak, but it’s also a new beginning.
Now in my early 30s, no different from my peers who are also sitting on mountains of school debt and mid-career salaries in expensive cities, I’ve had to rethink Christmas. Just like my concept of God has grown from a Santa-like old man with a beard, my understanding of Christmas has, too. Instead of presents, I find myself thinking more and more about presence.
Few would disagree that true presence is besieged by our everyday way of life: the use of smartphones, Netflix on demand, our love of “busyness,” and the endless job descriptions that require a multi-tasking superhero. In the midst of all of this, living a life of presence — to be attentive in a meaningful and often times spiritual way — is a radical, countercultural way of living.
This Advent season, as we prepare for Christ’s coming, put presence on your list of presents this year. Here are three ideas for adding more presence in your life:
#1 Give the gift of presence. Many of our friends and family have everything they need and even what they want. Instead of adding to the “stuff of life” by giving a material gift, spend the money by asking a friend to go out to lunch or coffee instead. This way, you can catch up and have a conversation. Particularly, think about friends you’ve been “meaning to get together with” for weeks or maybe months now. The gift of presence will be a gift they’ll remember.
#2 Power down during family time. Having a smartphone out during a meal is now, unfortunately, a socially acceptable behavior. This Christmas, make a pledge to be technology-free at family gatherings. If you want to share photos with relatives you haven’t seen in a long time, decide on some parameters — like photo sharing or taking only. Next step, discuss with your family and ask them to join you in tech-free family time, too.
#3 Add more presence to your prayer life. This doesn’t have to be a grandiose commitment (save that attitude for New Year’s resolutions!). Just think of one thing you can do to improve your faith life during Advent. Maybe there’s a spiritual read you’ve been meaning to get to, maybe you want to pray on the bus or listen to guided prayer on your way to work. Perhaps your church orders little blue books for Advent, to help you spend just minutes a day in more meaningful prayer. Take on one of these practices to stay in touch with the real meaning of the season.
Regardless of what you decide, even small gestures can mean big results for your own growth and the enjoyment of others around you. Make presence, not presents, your focus this year.