When I was a young mother (Wow! That makes me sound ancient now….), my priest gave me some very sound advice.
I had been talking with him about how I felt overwhelmed by the Nativity Fast. There was just so much going on during the season and fasting felt like one more thing to check off my list. Plus, with children, I felt the added pressure to make their fasting experience meaningful as well.
Now I feel overwhelmed for a different reason: the pandemic and all that goes with it. Should I invite family over for Thanksgiving and Christmas? Will my school and my children’s schools go virtual soon? What is the best thing to do to show love of God and love of neighbor right now?
It’s all overwhelming.
My priest’s advice is just as solid today as it was then:
He said, “Spend the first third of the Nativity Fast focusing on Thanksgiving–express gratitude. Spend the next third of the Fast focusing on the life of St. Nicholas–serve others as he did. Then, spend the final third of the Nativity Fast focused on preparing for the birth of Christ–anticipating the Incarnation.”
Somehow breaking the fast down into three sections, each with its unique purpose, was a game-changer for me.
Today I thought I would briefly elaborate on each section and its corresponding virtue. Then, throughout the Fast, I will provide some simple ideas for living out those virtues with our families.
Ways to Observe the Nativity Fast When You Are Overwhelmed
1. Focus on Gratitude
From November 15 through Thanksgiving Day, I plan to focus on gratitude. This means that my own prayer life will include extended times for gratitude. Perhaps I’ll start writing down things I am thankful for in a gratitude journal. I would also like to study passages in the Bible relating to gratitude.
As a family, I want to find a simple activity that will help us find reasons to thank God each day. I’m looking for something tangible, concrete to help my kids grasp the concept. I would also love for them to express thanks to others–within the family and without. Perhaps we’ll practice and role play how to thank a teacher, a fast food drive-thru worker, a friend.
2. Focus on Service
St. Nicholas holds a very special place in our family. He is our family patron saint and has been the patron saint of three parishes we’ve been part of over the years, including our current parish where my husband serves as priest.
St. Nicholas’s life was dedicated to love of God through love of neighbor.
From the Friday after Thanksgiving to December 6 (St. Nicholas’s feast day), I’d love to find practical ways to increase my service toward others during this portion of the Fast. Maybe even a family project. In addition, we will be pulling out all of the books on St. Nicholas that we can find.
3. Focus on Anticipation
Finally, for the last portion of the Nativity Fast, I want to focus on waiting. I am not always very good at this. For me, this lack of patience often stems from a desire to control circumstances and even to control other people.
But, waiting–patience rooted in expectation and anticipation–is an important part of the Christian life. How can I find ways to live in that waiting? How can I prepare myself and my family for the gift of Christ through faithful, faith-filled anticipation?
This simple outline and progression–gratitude, service, anticipation–will help me fight the overwhelm and truly experience the Nativity Fast this year.