by Linda Ryan
“You keep us waiting. You, the God of all time, Want us to wait. For the right time in which to discover Who we are, where we are to go, Who will be with us, and what we must do. So thank you … for the waiting time.” – John Bell, quoted in The Westminster Collection of Christian Prayers, compiled by Dorothy M. Stewart
I’m always on the lookout for things that make me stop and think. I often run across them while looking for something else entirely, but suddenly, the words seem to pop off the page as if they were in bold lettering and larger font than the words around them. The one above is one of those happy accidents.
The quote is about waiting. Lord knows, most of us are not all that wonderful with waiting. We don’t like to wait in the doctor’s office, having to wait in traffic, and waiting for a new baby seems to take forever. Then there’s waiting for Christmas, even though we have and that calendars to mark off the days (and occasionally a chocolate behind each door which makes things a little more tasty”). We still are more focused on Christmas than we are with Advent. Advent is supposed to be a time of waiting, but unfortunately, like a lot of other things, who has time to wait?. We’ve got shopping to do, presents to wrap, cards to send out, trees and houses to decorate, lights to put up, and kids to get to rehearsals for Christmas pageants and Christmas concerts, and Heaven knows what-all else. We fall into bed at night exhausted. Who has time to wait?
God doesn’t intend for us to rush through this season being so busy that we don’t have time to stop and contemplate what it is we’re doing. That’s getting in the way of our learning the patience that waiting takes. It’s hard. We were taught that we have to keep busy lest someone think were slacking off or being lazy or not doing what were supposed to be doing. Heaven forbid that a supervisor at work sees one of the employees sitting there staring at a monitor without moving. Goofing off? Reading Facebook?. Perhaps daydreaming? Or is that employee actually engaged in creative thinking, going outside the box, letting his or her imagination roam while figuring out a way to make things run better, more smoothly, and more efficiently. Generally, however, the employee will be seen as sitting there and doing nothing, and that can be hazardous in the current job market.
Tradition teaches us that waiting can be a very good thing. Mary had nine months to contemplate the birth of her child, time to sit and think, to prepare baby clothes, and to actually sit and contemplate scriptures, prayers, and thought of the change that was about to occur in her life. Many people in the Bible had to wait, some of them more or less gracefully. Prophets encouraged patience which, in essence, meant waiting. If God was punishing the people, then they had to accept the punishment and wait patiently until they were given instructions to move on.
Jesus was impatient a few times. Take the story of the barren fig tree when he wanted figs immediately. So he blasted the tree. That sounds very un-Jesus-like. The tipping over of the tables was another in a very un-Jesus-like manner, because he wanted the Temple to be a place of prayer and not a big box store for sacrificial animals with the profits benefiting the priests and no one else. Jesus demonstrated a working lifestyle to his people , but he also demonstrated going apart and sitting and waiting and praying, just like his mother had done before he was born.
We find it hard to wait. God wants us to wait, and we have a lot to wait for. Who are we? That’s something we gradually learn as we grow up and grow older. We don’t know that right away, and that’s as it should be. What are we supposed to be doing? That requires waiting too, because discernment is not always an instantaneous prospect. Okay, so Paul was knocked off his donkey and got that message right away, but he had also waited without knowing what he was waiting for. And surprise — it happened.
God is waiting for us to wait. We don’t often think about God waiting with us. Often we expect God to be busy doing something because we have we have asked God to do whatever it is that needs to be done. That’s the one time a we get really good at waiting. We are asking God to heal someone, to take care of a problem, to bless someone or something, or wait to be to shown the how and why to do something that needs to be done. Then we wait for Jesus or God to do it. We don’t always think about doing it ourselves. And perhaps that’s what God is waiting for — for us to make the move to trust enough to start work even if we don’t know what were doing is exactly what we are supposed to be doing.
Advent should be a time for us to learn to wait, not to run around like chickens with their heads cut off, until we collapse on Christmas Day and thank God that that’s over for another year. We’re supposed to use Advent to think about what the coming of the Christ child means, and how we can participate in that coming just as he asked us to participate in bringing about the kingdom. That kind of waiting is hard to do when there are so many needs and so few seemingly are willing to help, and when we have so many things going on — cultural things, traditional things, active things. But God is patient. God waits for us to slow down and wait for and upon God.
So, since it’s about halfway through Advent, I think it’s time for me to be less busy and a little bit more patient; to ponder a bit more and struggle a lot less, to look for God in unexpected times and places instead of either shooting up arrow prayers expecting God to take care of them and then rushing off to do something else. When I think of it, God could have made the universe simply by speaking a word or two — yet we read that God took six days to actually put it together and one more day to rest and contemplate it.
Perhaps I need to build a little Sabbath time into each day of Advent, a time to sit, listen, pray, read, or just be present to God. It might be the only time God has time to get a word in edgewise — at least, until after Christmas, if then. I know I need to do some of that building, sooner rather than later. I think I’d better start now, because if I don’t do it now, I may not have time later. God waits — and I need to learn to do the same.
Image: photo by Linda Ryan