“Waiting is an awful desert between where people are and where they want to go.” –Henri Nouwen
It is with some irony that I found myself sitting in church this morning listening to the pastor speak while wondering if I am in the wrong religion. The pastor adeptly remarked that the two most important seasons on the Christian calendar are Advent and Lent, both of which center around waiting. During advent we wait with expectation for the coming of Jesus and then during Lent we wait with heaviness of heart as we look at the desolation of creation around and within and recognize our need for a savior as Easter morning approaches. Blam! Two large scoops of waiting served with a side of extreme patience. I’d rather have a double portion of instant gratification. Sprinkle that with worldly success and, most of my days, that is the sundae I would prefer. The waiting can wait.
You see, waiting is one of my least favorite things in life, and it has a way of bringing out the worst in me. Let us just say that earlier this week when the printer refused to work, and after rebooting the computer I found myself staring at the spinning wheel of death on my screen while I was late for a meeting, I dealt with my frustration in a very mature fashion by kicking a stray tissue box into our coat rack, sending it on its way to tissue box Heaven. May it rest in peace and not in pieces.
When we wait, we feel powerless, out of control. But we are control freaks, so instead of learning to wait we either fight or flee. The tale of the tissue box lets you know my personal tendency. It’s easier to be doing something, even if that something is irrelevant to the situation at hand, than to wait peacefully. This doing helps us regain our sense of control; but maybe God is trying to tell us something. What if we admitted that we are not in control? What if we saw waiting as an opportunity to grow in holiness and humility and to see God work in unexpected ways? What if we gauged our spiritual maturity on how we wait?
For years I have read in the New Testament the story of Simeon, who waited in the temple to see Jesus, but I never thought about what the waiting must have been like. He was given a promise, and then for years he waited completely out of control to fulfill his destiny to see the Messiah. There was nothing he could do besides wait. I wonder if there were days when he questioned if he’d heard God correctly. Were there days when he asked God for a new destiny? Were there days when he felt that God had forgotten his promise as the years passed and he awoke each morning with pain in his joints and his eyesight began to grow weak? I assume that in his humanity he had good and bad days, but from the narrative we have in Scripture, Simeon seems to have embraced his call to wait. His waiting was an opportunity to grow in intimacy with God and to learn to trust Him.
I have much to learn from my namesake. Maybe the fact that waiting is so unnatural and so countercultural proves that it is exactly what we need. Maybe we’re afraid of what we’ll find out about ourselves if we actually learn to wait and be still? Maybe we’re afraid that God will fail us? Maybe living by faith sounds good in theory but is incredibly difficult in reality? Maybe we all have our reasons for struggling to wait, but whatever our excuse is, I think that God is calling us to be a people who learn how to engage in holy waiting. I have a hunch that the seasons of Advent and Lent are just as important as Christmas and Easter, but you’ll have to find out for yourself.