An Advent Reflection on Finding Gratitude in the Stressful Season

By: Jonathan Hicks

On the first Sunday of Advent, our parish priest gave a homily about how during this season the world tends to speed up and get “busier,” but the Church is actually calling us to slow down and spend more time in prayer. My wife and I both left Mass that Sunday with a high resolve to “slow down” this season and not let the usual culprits get the best of us.

too busy meme

First Part of Advent

We got off to a great start. I joined an Advent Meditation group that I was invited to. I committed to some new service opportunities. My wife, Kate, took up extra prayer devotions and made a commitment to go to Confession regularly throughout the season. She went on a retreat. We both decided not to get too crazy with parties, and shopping, and all the usual suspects. We got our kids involved in some new Advent traditions. Things were looking fantastic.

The first week went really well. We worked everything into our already existing routine. We held each other accountable. It seemed like this was going to be the best Advent ever for our family spiritually. However, once Kate left for her retreat, we got a series of unexpected circumstances that through us way off track.

Our Series of Curveballs (or Snowballs)

Once Kate left for retreat, our two year old son got sick with a fever. He couldn’t go to daycare. The illness was prolonged by an ear infection. This was quickly passed to his older and younger brothers and the illness took a week and a half for our family to recover from.

My ability to work during this time was severely limited. Fortunately, my wife and I are both self-employed so it was somewhat manageable. However, ironically during this time I began to generate some new leads and was getting into the thick of a re-vamped marketing plan that I was trying to pick up some steam on before Christmas break.

just keep swimming gif

Nobody was getting a good night’s sleep in our house for about two weeks. Finally, once we thought it was over, then came the stomach virus that afflicted everyone in our family including myself. Suddenly, I found myself stressing out over the season because I was backed up on work and we weren’t ready for Christmas. My prayer routine had gone out the window as I was just trying to stay above water.

God Has a Plan

An Advent prayer

Despite my best plans, my ideal Advent had been de-railed. I had to accept that my prayer life was not going to be perfect, and that I needed to focus on my top priorities for work and possibly save the other tasks until after the New Year.

I’m called in my vocation to love my wife and children. Sometimes that means I cannot commit to a regular routine prayer life and fruitful time of deep contemplation. Sometimes it means holding my five year old while he watches Star Wars until he feels better, or making sure the house is in order because our six month old is sick and just wants to be held by his mom.

The Advent Meditation Group that I joined is looking at Advent through the eyes of St. Joseph. My two biggest takeaways from this group so far in how I am preparing during Advent are:

  • St. Joseph lived his life in humble service to his Creator
  • St. Joseph had a prayer life that was organic.

The Best Prayer is a Humble Prayer

Although I am having trouble getting out my prayer materials at the same time everyday to find fruitful prayer in my routine, I have been seeking God in humble service (to my family) and trying to live a more organic prayer life.

My prayer life has not included things like regular Adoration and Scripture study like it usually does, but I have been taking time regularly throughout my day to thank God for my wife, my kids, the ability to work from home, and the people that have helped me in different facets of my life. It has left me with a more grateful, and simpler attitude.

My marriage has blossomed this Advent as Kate and I both practice gratitude, and I am learning to see God in everyday moments in a special way.

Encouragement

Wherever you are spiritually this Advent, whether your Advent hasn’t gone as planned, you didn’t plan anything special, or it is going better that you thought, I encourage you to stop and consider what God is calling you to in this next week.

Our individual call is just as unique as our set of circumstances. There is always a way to “roll with the punches” and discover our infinite God in new and exciting ways. God meets us where we are. Right in our glorious messes!

The Nativity story is the perfect example of finding God’s will and rolling with the punches. If you are finding that there is “no room at the Inn,” I challenge you to look around you and find your manger where you can slow down and sleep in heavenly peace.

Advent joy


Jonathan Hicks is a husband and father of 3 boys, ages 5, 3 and 6 months. He works as a grant writing consultant and has a passion for Catholic causes, particularly those that serve the poor. Originally from Scranton, PA, he currently resides in Grand Rapids, MI.

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3 Tips to Lead to a Mild (not Manic) Monday

Garfield Monday Meme

American cartoonist Jim Davis’ Garfield despises the start of the week. The cartoon cat repeated states, “I hate Mondays!” This Monday I definitely shared the same attitude as Garfield. Every single customer interaction proved to be grating, complex, tenuous, and stressful. I could not escape the negativity even during my lunch break! Unfortunately, I sat next to a couple cantankerous managers. They complained about everything: their team members, not getting the correct sauce for their chicken, waiting on work changes, and the list went on and on.

Certainly, it would have been easy for me to dive-bomb into a stress spiral for the remainder of the day. Instead, I choose to end the cycle of complaining. Maya Angelou’s wisdom immediately helps me in these situation. The American author wrote, “What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.” Change is not always easy, but it is absolutely necessary transform your mindset away from negativity—especially at the beginning of the week. I had to remind myself, yet here are three tips to make your Monday mild and not manic!

Recognize Your Struggle

recognize gif

I have found that if I don’t admit that I am having a tough or challenging day it makes it quite difficult to move forward. Honesty is the best policy. This is true whenever you experience internal struggles. Don’t get down on yourself in those times of trial. Recognize the times you need help and move on to tip two!

Appreciate the Little Things

Appreciate the little things

Along with identifying the situations that cause you chaos and grief, it is equally important to be thankful for the things going right. French 17th century mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote, “Little things console us because little things afflict us.” Manic Mondays usually occur when many little things add up that chisel away at our positive attitude. Gratitude is the best weapon to fend off despair and negativity. Where I struggle is I tend to think “big” where the “little blessings” suffice to defeat my woeful attitude. Grab a post-it note or open a notepad on your phone. List out 5 simple things, people, or situations that you are thankful for despite this hectic Monday.

Perspective Checkpoint

Checkpoint

In high school I ran cross country and track. The shortest race that I usually ran was 1 mile. Endurance always was a key factor in the success of every race. I had to pace myself accordingly in order to finish the race effectively. Making checkpoints throughout the race helped me pace myself without running on fumes. The analogy of a life as a race always reminds me the importance of forming checkpoints.

Amid the stress of today I strategically took a break after a series of angry customers or confusing situations. Taking a quick break from the situation truly helps to prevent the stress from compounding. American author Bruce Feiler stated, “Take a walk with a turtle. And behold the world in pause.” If you lack the ability to own a turtle still pause and gaze at the world in its stillness. In the workplace you need not spend an hour in mediation, but a few minute pause every hour will enhance your ability to gain a different perspective—it helped me get my manic Monday in line.

you got this friends

If you struggle weekly with a hyper start to the beginning of the week don’t despair. Identify your struggle. Be thankful for the little blessings in your life. Take frequent perspective checkpoints throughout the day. You will be surprised how a manic Monday could turn mild.

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Salute and Appreciation to All Veterans!

Thank you to all veterans who served in any and all capacities to help keep the rest of the United States safe. I appreciate all that you have sacrificed so that I may enjoy the various freedoms of speech, association, and religion to name a few.

On behalf of the rest of the citizens of the United States, thank you again for your service and your family’s sacrifices as well. May God keep you safe and reward you generously! Saint Martin—patron saint of Soldier pray for us.


Dear well-beloved Saint,

you were first a soldier like your father.

Converted to the Church,

you became a soldier of Christ,

a priest and then a Bishop of Tours.

Lover of the poor,

and model for pagans and Christians alike,

protect our soldiers at all times.

Make them strong, just, and charitable,

always aiming at establishing peace on earth.

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