Sometimes I’m not very good at waiting. My tendency when waiting for something to happen is to run myself ragged, doing everything I can think of to make it happen faster. Then, when I run out of things that I can do to influence the situation, I obsess about the situation, racking my brains looking for other things I can do that I haven’t done yet. Finally, when I’m absolutely convinced that I’ve done all there is to do and there’s nothing left but to wait, I can fall into a kind of lethargy and become apathetic not only about the waiting process but about everything else, too. These tendencies are especially pronounced when what I’m waiting for is something really big or important, and when there is no set date when the waiting will end. I’m kind of in the middle of that kind of waiting right now as Gretchen looks for a call here in Pennsylvania. Given that there is absolutely nothing I can do to influence that process, and that there is no set date, and that this is both big and important, this process has at times been somewhat challenging for me.
For the most part, though, I’ve found ways of getting through the waiting without sinking into lethargy. Prayer helps a lot. Yes, I occasionally pray for the process to move faster, but more often I pray for patience. I notice that I actually feel better when I pray for the process, however long, to be a good process and ask for the patience to accept whatever comes. I find that I am slowly learning to let “thy will be done” be the first thing I ask for, not the prayer of last resort once I’ve exhausted all other options. I don’t know that praying in this way influences the process at all, though I believe it does; I know, however that praying in this way changes me. It draws me back from thinking that I need to be doing something and reminds me to trust in God’s will and God’s grace in God’s time. I’ve had plenty of experiences in my life where it felt like something took forever, only to later be able to see that it took exactly as long as it needed to in God’s time, so this kind of patience should probably come more easily to me than it does, but as always, I’m a work in progress.
The other thing that helps is getting on with the business of preparing. I often have to be careful of the fine line between preparing for something and daydreaming. To give an example, preparing for the day I buy a house means getting my credit in order and saving for a down payment; fantasizing means spending all day surfing the web picking out curtains for that theoretical house somewhere off in the future. Such fantasizing can be fun (in moderation) but it’s no substitute for actually preparing. Paradoxically, discerning the difference between what I should be doing and what I shouldn’t be doing while I wait often starts with doing nothing and waiting (go figure) for the leading of the Spirit to show me what to do. There is great wisdom in the idea that “if you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything. When it’s time to do something, you’ll know.” I’m (slowly) learning that praying for guidance and reporting for duty is usually far more fruitful than praying for outcomes and giving God orders.
In some ways, Advent is the spiritual equivalent of this kind of waiting. Advent is more than just waiting for Christmas; it is a time of preparing (again) for the advent of our Lord, for the fulfillment of the reign of God. As Jesus repeatedly warns his disciples, there’s no fixed endpoint towards which we can count down the days. “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36; cf. Matt. 25:1-13, Acts 1:6-8) Such a period of waiting is not a time for lethargy, but for discernment, trust and action. It is a time to say with Mary, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) It is a time to heed again the call of Isaiah to “In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.” (Isaiah 40:3) And it is, above all, a time to ask, as the crowds asked John the Baptist, “What then should we do?” (Luke 3:10), trusting that the answer will come in God’s time.
Just in case you were looking for something to do while you wait…