Advent and potty training, are, in fact, very similar. lol
Way #1: There’s a lot of waiting around. My kid became daytime potty-trained last week. We started potty-training her over a year ago. Advent’s like that—you only get to light one candle a week on your Advent wreath, or open one little door on your Advent calendar per day. The church hymns, if you’re in a liturgically oriented church, are subdued, like the mood of a parent thwarted by uncontrolled toddler bladders and bowels. If you’re super-observant, the Christmas tree doesn’t come home till Christmas Eve and the Christmas music makes way for the usual dose of Muse and Metallica (okay, that’s the music at my house, but you get the idea). “Fun” isn’t the first word that comes to mind in either case.
Way #2: It takes repetition—lots of it—to get the idea. Without our many-times-a-day repetition of “Do you need to go potty?” our kid just had no awareness of it, and oops! There went her diaper (or, worse, on the days we were foolish enough to dress her in it, her underwear). At my Anglo-Catholic church, we sing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel—several verses of it—every Advent Sunday to start the liturgy procession. Wait, what are we singing about? You mean Jesus isn’t here yet? You mean he’s still in the dark, nourishing womb of the one who bears him? Reminders of what hasn’t happened in the midst of everyone’s celebration of the it-already-happened do help.
Way #3: Rewards help. For a while we used potty treats in the form of little gummy fruit-flavored snacks. It didn’t really work unless our kid was hungry, though, so we shifted to a homemade chart for which she earned shining metallic stars. And you know what? Going square by square works! That’s what makes Advent calendars a raving success. My husband is especially fond of the ones from Trader Joe’s, loaded with chocolate. I’m fond of the Jacquie Lawson virtual Advent calendar, which I’ve received as a gift for the last several years. The wait for the lighting of each Advent candle on a wreath takes seven times as long—but oh, that moment when you finally get to light the next candle, multiplying the light that will eventually manifest as a bright, beckoning star!
Way #4: Taking time is kinder than a sudden total shift in reality. When I first got the idea to potty-train my toddler, it was right after I learned that I was pregnant with my second child. We wanted her to be potty-trained by the time the second one arrived, so I found a three-day fail-safe method on the internet that a friend had used. The author of this method said as long as her directions were followed to the letter, it would work for any age, period—in three days. She lied. And this mama wept and wailed before (and after) admitting defeat. The shift from Thanksgiving to Christmas (or the Fourth of July to Christmas) wrenches my heart like that. Really, I need time to prepare, and I need the experts to respect my need for time to prepare—like John the Baptist—for the birthing of the Christ in my world. If I take seriously what Isaiah writes, my lioness self just isn’t ready to lie down with a lamb. I need time to step back, shut up, and listen to the quiet, quieting voice of God, whether as the voice in my dreams or as a prophetic voice speaking out to me in waking life.
Way #5: The final reward, after all that waiting, is a little odd to talk about if you step outside the immediacy of the moment. The toilet is filled, the diaper at last remains dry. There’s nothing else you can think about, and you can’t stop squealing. If your non-parent friends could see you now! So the Christ-child is born and laid in a manger of animal hay to become food (“manger” means “to eat,” after all). Um, whose food? And did you notice that the child got swaddled swaddled like a mummy? Same way he’s going to be wrapped in the tomb thirty-three years or so down the line when he actually does die, and…becomes bread for the world? Birth and death. Death and resurrection. Birth and risen bread. Whoa.
Toilet-training is to Advent what Potty-Training Day is to Christmas--the necessary prelude to the main event. And you know what? The wait renders the main event absolutely glorious.