by: Phillip Douglas
I recently finished watching a YouTube Series done by Will Smith entitled, “The Best Shape of My Life”. It’s really well done. Much like most of us, it looks like Mr. Smith gained a few pounds over the Covid quarantine period, but who am I to judge; I can certainly relate. The documentary chronicles Will trying to complete the writing of his personal memoir while also attempting to lose a bunch of weight and get back into that legendary “Men in Black” shape. I won’t spoil anything, but Will is daringly vulnerable in the series, speaking into the depths of his many faults, failures, regrets, and childhood wounds. It’s quite refreshing and relatable.
A Divine Invitation
My heart has grown tired, weary, and my soul feels dry. Many of the things that used to give me life seem to be gone. Where, Oh Lord is your presence within me?
Which one of us can claim we aren’t plagued and dealing with our own wounds, regrets, sin, and weariness? Who among us is still holding fast to their childhood innocence and purity? Certainly Mr. Smith isn’t alone, right? He’s just got an amazing platform and a willingness to be vulnerable.
The season of Advent calls us into something even more daring than Will Smith’s challenge, to slow down and become like children again. The Church declares that in Advent we are called deeper into humility to become children of God (Mt 18:3-4) while also being born into the Holy Spirit from above; only then can the miracle of Christmas take place in our hearts (CCC 526). Sometimes I do wish indeed I was a child again…
Have you ever stopped to ponder what we are preparing for during Advent? Its more than four melted candles in the center of our kitchen table…God Almighty becoming man, which is the most earth shattering, soul filling, life altering, hope invading, and path redirecting event that has ever taken place in the history of humanity. And somehow in His divine generosity, Jesus invites us deep into that wondrous event. What life changing opportunity!
Our Response to the Invitation
If I’m being honest, many times Advent just doesn’t move the needle for me. I rarely enter into the season. I always get too busy during the Christmas run up, and before I know it, the season is finished and all I have to show for it is a few half-burned candles- if that.
Yet Jesus has done his part by issuing the divine invite, one that has been well-crafted and personalized for each of us. During this season of grace, He is waiting for us. What will my response be? Will I respond to his offer of forgiveness through my humble repentance? Will I respond to His call for me to see His eyes and heart in the least among me? Will I empty my heart of pride, greed, lust, laziness, and the doubt of the power of His grace in my life? All of these invitations await us this Advent season.
Consider just a few of the reminders of the divine invitations God has given us in Scripture:
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” -Revelation 3:20
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,* and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28
Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be red like crimson, they may become white as wool.”
-Is. 1: 18
These verses are Jesus begging us to turn to Him once again in this season of preparation. What is my response to these divine invitations of grace given to me by Christ Himself?
Making a Plan
One thing I found intriguing in his documentary is how Will Smith completely rearranged his schedule and environment in order to achieve his goal. He had to interrupt his world in order to reach his desired result. His diet changed, exercise routine changed, even the place where he lived was transformed.
So, this advent I need to ask myself, is becoming more like Jesus worth my interrupting or changing some things up in my life? Can I adopt new practices of prayer, giving, fasting? Can I schedule times of intense focus with Jesus where everything else is turned off? Can I shift down on hours at work or hours with friends so I can hone in on where the Holy Spirit wants to take me spiritually? What about finding a different routine altogether for Advent? For some of us entering into advent may look like turning our normal reality and routines upside down, just like the incarnation does, in hopes that our minds and hearts will be radically interrupted by Jesus Christ and His endless mercy.
Perhaps most importantly, do I actually believe that the Holy Spirit can change me? Do we believe that the grace of Jesus Christ can heal us? Heal us from our apathy towards His mercy? Heal us from our inclination to serve ourselves instead of our neighbor? What about our sinful patterns? Can the grace of Christ touch those or will we keep those hidden from Him once again?
What if Jesus desires to give us a new and different gift this Christmas? What if He seeks to renew us from deep within? What if He desires to shift our hearts, minds, souls, and strength into a new and transforming pattern of life? Are we willing to be docile this Avent? Are we willing to give Him the time and space?
Start by making a simple plan that includes times and spaces for prayer, giving, simple fasting and self-gift. Plan to be insanely intentional and liberal in giving out joy and love to those around you. Even to those who may not be so deserving. Write your plan down and seek to stick to it for four weeks. When you bomb and fail miserably after the feel-goods of week one and two, pull your plan back out and recommit to it. Maybe, after four weeks, we can also, like Will Smith, be in the best shape of our lives. Jesus is waiting for us!
At this Christmas when Christ comes, will He find a warm heart? Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving the others with God’s own love and concern.” -St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata
Phillip Douglas and his wife, along with their seven children are full time lay Catholic missionaries currently serving in Asia with Family Missions Company. He is the author of Glorious Adventure: Discovering the Treasure of Taking Christ to the Nations and Finding the Father: Reflections of Grace, Mercy, and Healing in Fatherhood. To follow their journey please visit www.phillipdouglasbooks.com. To learn more about becoming a full- time lay Catholic missionary visit www.familymissionscompany.com