Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Moving Beyond Picture Books & Presents: Helping Your Teens Transition to a Deeper, More Meaningful Advent

"Look up, and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand (Luke 21:28)."  
This time of Advent is a time for hope.  These great horizons of our Christian vocation, this unity of life built on the presence of God our Father, can and ought to be a daily reality."
-St. Josemaria Escriva, Life is Passing By

Our family loves traditions, and never more so than those we experience together throughout the Advent and Christmas season.  Just a few days ago, I sat down to make my annual Advent checklist, which looked exactly like this (minus the cute paper and perfect handwriting, add coffee stains and purple marker scribbles, compliments of Jophis):
Over the past fifteen years, the Jesse Tree, Advent wreath, family book basket, Feast of St. Nicholas, and prayers around the nativity traditions have been a wonderful way for us to nurture a deeper faith in our children.  

In an effort to preserve this sacred time, and to truly give meaning to the season of Advent, it is our hope that our children will not just know, but understand and live Advent for that which it is meant to be - a season of preparation.

Yet, I confess, when the world around us begins to break out the Christmas decor before Halloween, it's a great challenge to draw their little hearts in away from secular influences and in toward Jesus Christ.

The challenge is becoming greater, now that we have teens in the house.

Every year I hear Christians chatting about how secularized Christmas has become, and how the season of Advent seems almost to have been forgotten.  We shake our heads, throw up our hands and wonder if it's worth all the effort to keep Christ in Christmas.

I admit, that I feel quite alone the day after Christmas when everyone else is taking down their decorations and lights.  What seems to be the end of the celebration is just the beginning for us.  We take that Twelve Days of Christmas song seriously!

While I'm convinced that those of us who long to live the seasons of Advent and Christmas to the fullest are not going to change society's perspective toward the true meaning of the holidays, we can have a strong and lasting influence within our own families, and pray that they will pass the truths and traditions we teach them on to their own families one day.

Maintaining the magical spirit of the season is simple with little ones, but for our older children, Steve and I have realized that there is a time of transition where they move from a simplistic experience of Christ's coming into a more sincere and efficacious one.
Steve reading from The Holy Mass after Sunday brunch.

Guidance through this transition requires time and effort on our part, and also an authentic example that is visible and trustworthy. Just a few of the ways in which we are forming and nurturing our teenage sons' faith throughout the season of Advent (and beyond) are:

1.  Advent is a Time of Preparation
We remind them that Advent (like Lent) is a time of fast and abstinence meant to prepare our souls for the reception our Lord.  What a great challenge this is, when typically the days leading up to Christmas are filled with abundant opportunities to indulge! Fasting, however, can come in forms other than giving up food.  The fruit of the sacrifice, whatever form it may be, is an increased hunger and longing for our Lord, as well as a humility that recognizes a real need for Him.

2.  Make Prayer a Priority
Making time for family prayer can be difficult, especially with so many activities and responsibilities weighing on our shoulders and our schedules.  But during Advent this is the one thing that, for our family, does not play second fiddle to other committments.  As Catholics, praying the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary together around the nativity is one of our favorite forms of prayer.  If it is late, and the children are restless, sometimes we say just a decade together, then Steve and I will finish the prayers together after the kids go to bed.

3.  Practice Examination of Conscience 
I have written more on that here, but for now, I'll just say that during Advent, in preparation for Christ's coming, we follow the example of John the Baptist who's message was one of conversion, of forgiveness, of repentance (Mark 1:3).  While we strive to pray an examination of conscience with the family once a week, our good night hugs to the older boys are often followed by a simple, "Don't forget to examine your conscience before you go to sleep."

4.  Read Aloud 
Our Christmas book basket is overflowing, as each year I cannot resist adding one or two new stories to the stack.  As the older boys have moved well beyond picture books, we still continue the tradition of reading aloud to them with more challenging texts.  This usually takes place after the evening meal or before night prayer.  Of course we understand that the little ones will reach boredom quickly, so they are allowed to color or play during this time.  We read for a short while and then have discussion.  It's amazing how even Henry, who is 8, and George, who is 10, enjoy participating in the dialog.

 *See list below of what we're reading this season.*

5.  Pray for One Another. 
Steve and I pray for each one of our children every day. But, when it comes to praying for the older children, I believe it's important that we ask them how we can pray for them, and also we request that they pray for us.

This is where the faith gets real.  Faith isn't comprised of a firm devotion to habits and traditions alone, it is a challenging interior work, a daily resolution to become less of ourselves and more of Christ. When we share a few of our own struggles to overcome ourselves, our weaknesses, and our defects with our sons, when we ask for their help through prayer, they see that we are sincere in preparing our own hearts for Christ.

Parents are first and primary Catechists to their children.  The most powerful lessons are always taught best through example.  Steve and I are by no means perfect in our endeavors to form our children in their faith.  But, we struggle on, as I hope you are too, trusting in God's mercy and love to guide us every step of the way.

*Any books relating to the faith, the saints, conversion stories, etc. are great, so long as they encourage discussion and contemplation. *
This book is truly a gem of a read.  While it's not necessarily specific to Advent or Christmas, I wanted to include it here, because it is such a treasure and can be read year round. Steve and I are in awe of how much knowledge and wisdom we are garnering from this little book.  It is a fantastic teaching tool for parents and catechists.

by Dr. Scott Hahn

by Dr. Ted Sri


  1. Oh I really want to be more faithful to praying my examination! I hope you have a blessed Advent season. I will pray for you and your family :)

  2. I've been pondering ways that we can bring our oldest two children, about to turn 14 and 12, into a deeper Advent journey. Thanks for taking the time to write this post. I'm looking for something that we can read aloud and discuss with the bigger children nightly. Of the three books you linked to at the end, would you be able to choose a favorite or most appropriate one for that purpose? God bless you and yours during this season and always.

    1. Hi Lauren! Being former students of Scott Hahn, we naturally love all of his works. But, if you're short on time with your kids and want to read something that will still encourage prayer/thoughtfulness during Advent, I'd say the Advent of Christ book would work great, as would any meditation/reflection that involves scripture. If you get the Magnificat? It is sucha wonderful resource. Doing the daily readings and reflections together from there would also be wonderful. Happy Advent!

  3. Which book would you recommend (Hahn or Sri) for boys 8th, 5th, 3rd, and 4 years old? I love both authors. Thanks. Jenny

    1. Hi Jen! I would suggest the book by Dr. Sri. The reflections are short and easy to follow. The questions at the end of each reflection can be adapted for different ages. I hope you enjoy it! Happy Advent!!


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