The other day I went to the post office in Newton, Massachusetts. I parallel parked on busy Beacon Street and, just as I was about to get out, a car came up on the drivers side, stopped, and then parked. The driver popped out, looked at me, and said in an annoyed voice, “I’ll just be a minute.” The woman in the car ahead of me was attempting to pull out of her space, and pointed out the the driver that she was now stuck. “I’ll just be a minute,” repeated the driver, and she ran into the post office with some letters.
Longer than a minute later, after mailing her envelopes, and checking her post office box, she emerged again. Issuing no apology, she hopped into her car and drove away down the busy road. Finally, the woman in front of me could leave, and traffic could go on unhindered.
I get frustrated at drivers who inconvenience everyone because of their own selfishness. Often times it comes because they feel so busy and important that they can’t stop and see how their actions are affecting the people around them. I’m not sure what this driver was in such a rush to get to, but it struck me that had she waited a couple of seconds, the car in front of me could have left and she could have taken her space and not been rushed. But when we are so focused by our own “needs” and busy-ness, we often don’t see the simple solutions that could make things better for everyone. In the end our actions communicate to other people the message that, “I am more important than you.”
In the run up to Christmas we often feel stressed out, and like we have a hundred things to do. At our worst, we focus only on our own list of tasks, and overwhelmed feelings, and not on the people around us. The result is that we can act in ways that, if we truly took a look at them, would appall us.
But Advent can be the antidote. Instead of buying into the stress, anxiety, and pressures of the season, we can instead chose to focus on truly preparing our hearts for Christmas. This time of year I like to remember the four traditional themes of Advent: hope, peace, joy, and love. I try to make sure that my actions align with those four themes. But, before that can ever happen, I have to make sure that I am cultivating those things inside of myself.
This Advent, what are you doing to help yourself feel hopeful? Peaceful? Joyful? Loving? It may feel selfish this time of year to take time out of busy schedules and concentrate on our own spiritual life, but my guess is that if we all did it, the world would be a kinder, more considerate place. The paradox of Advent is that in the busiest time of the year, we are asked to slow down, to reflect, and to prepare our hearts. Maybe that’s not an accident. Maybe that’s what we need to most right now.