December 4, 2008
Thankfully, so far in this holiday-shopping season, I haven't had to wait in any excruciatingly long lines. In fact, I think the longest line I've stood in was at a Starbucks (surprising, I know), and the store was well-prepared for the frazzled, in-need-of-an-extra-shot-of-espresso shoppers, so the line moved relatively quickly. Since many of the gifts I have left to buy can be ordered online, I might manage to entirely avoid overcrowded stores. That would be a welcome gift in itself.
I like to think I'm a relatively patient person, but the truth is, like most of us, I don't like to wait. Our immediate-gratification culture only makes things worse; it's not just that I want something now, it's that I think I should get to have it now. The Chicago traffic has not helped my patience level either. Unexpected traffic volume (read: even more than the usual amount) quickly makes me angry and cranky. I'm probably either running late or hungry too, which means I'm likely not in a good frame of mind to begin with.
The start of Advent has made me look a little more closely at waiting, though. My thoughts first turned in that direction thanks to Dave, who led a reflective Advent exercise at the office one day during lunch. On my own later, I journaled about one of the questions he asked: What are your connotations of the word waiting? Mine were largely negative, I discovered--words like long, discipline, unfulfilled longings.
In an effort to be a little more positive, I decided I should look at what waiting builds in us. The only thing I could think of, however, was patience. Patience is, of course, admirable and should be desired by us all, but it's really only useful for one thing: more waiting. Great! Excellent!! Can't wait--I mean, I will wait patiently (with excitement and shouts of praise!) for the next period of waiting, so that I can show off the patience I've gained!! Somehow, the allure of patience didn't quite make my eyes shine with anticipation. In fact, I felt a little gypped.
The next night, I decided I needed to try again. I felt like there must be more to waiting than that. Actually, I felt like I had to know there is more to waiting than just patience, because I feel like I've been waiting for God to work--to speak to me, unearth some joy in me, free me from fear, break through--for a long time now. Let's just say whatever patience I've gained thus far in my life is wearing a little thin.
As I pondered waiting a little more, I thought of my cousin. Her (now) husband is a number of years older than her. It doesn't matter much now, but when they first met, she wasn't sixteen years old yet, which was the age her parents had said she had to be before she could go on a date. So he waited. He waited until she was old enough to date and then, once they were dating, he waited a number of years until she was old enough to marry. I realized from their story that waiting shows our devotion and commitment to someone. It reveals how much we think of them. And that realization shifted waiting in my mind from drudgery to a gift--something I can offer to God to show him that I trust his timing and I'm committed to him, even when I have a hard time seeing him and have no idea what he's up to or when he'll act.
Advent itself gives me perspective on waiting as well. Israel waited hundreds of years, longing for their Messiah. Zechariah and Elizabeth waited years for a child. Mary and Joseph waited nine months (with not a little anxiety, I'm guessing) for Jesus--their Messiah--to be born, and they waited to consummate their marriage, a hard task for any newly married couple. Simeon and Anna waited in the temple to see the Messiah God had promised. The Advent story is full of people waiting and longing and then discovering that the end result was so much more than they could have imagined--worth every minute of their waiting.
The reality is, I can't force God to act. And I can't bring about his results, because I don't know what he's planning; I only know what I want to happen (which is most likely different than what he's planning for me--what I really need). My prayer, then, this Advent, is that God would help me wait well: to wait in trust and hope and contentment, out of devotion to him. I've tried the alternatives: waiting impatiently, with whining and complaining (it didn't help), and trying to take things into my own hands (it makes the waiting much worse. And maybe longer. Trust me.).
I'm realizing, too, that waiting works both ways. God, I'm quite sure, has been waiting on me, perhaps waiting even for this change in perspective--this small transformation--before he reveals the next thing I need to know. He knows what I can handle and when. And he only gives what's good, when the time is right to give it. This is the God I wait for, the hope I'll wait with when the waiting is hard.
So whether you're waiting in line to buy gifts (or chai!) or waiting for joy to somehow emerge from the place it's been buried inside you, here's to waiting well this Christmas, and to trusting--like Elizabeth, like Simeon, like Mary--that waiting itself is a gift that gives birth to more gifts: the ones we really need.