The art of waiting well
The Christian church is now in a time of waiting, called Advent. Christmas is nearly upon us, but the anticipation is almost as important.
As a child, I waited, though not always well, for that blessed Christmas morning. That was the one day of the year my body would rouse itself hours before dawn to investigate Santa’s leavings. The discovery of a visit by that jolly old elf would necessitate a dead sprint to my parents’ room to alert them that they were sleeping through the greatest morning of the year! This kindness was usually greeted with a few grunts and moans as my parents either rolled over or laboriously slid out from under the covers.
Once we were properly assembled around that gloriously adorned evergreen, my brother, sister and I would completely eviscerate the carefully wrapped packages with shouts and whoops reminiscent of a cackle of hyenas. The proper flaying of presents was not a delicate matter. We quickly layered our living room in the detritus of the once-hidden treasure. When we had uncovered the final gift, the adrenaline high quickly gave way to comparing presents (my brother always got the cooler ones!) and an emotional low of questioning, “Is that it?” No matter what I got, it was never enough. Oh, I learned to live with them and enjoy them, but there was always that twinge of wanting more. We had not been waiting well, but we had been waiting. We had no choice.
Impatience is often waiting’s evil twin. In fact, it is so commonly present, that often we mistake its side-effects for aspects of waiting. Impatience breeds a sense of suffering.
“Hurry up and wait!” isn’t just a comic dig at the military system, it’s a vocalization of suffering intended to elicit a common response of “yeah, I know, right?” This negative grab at community is an illustration, however, of a greater truth – shared suffering can produce community. Units grow closer on deployments; airborne units grow closer on jumps; trainees grow closer during training; Christians grow closer during Advent, usually, if the waiting is done well.
Waiting well is an art that requires a few things of us. First we must be waiting for the right thing. If we are waiting for the wrong thing, like the presents under the tree, then we will experience a post-present let down after receiving what we were waiting for. Second, we must be doing the right thing. During Christmas, this means remembering the original waiting for a savior and our current waiting for his return. If it’s the wrong thing it will not satisfy us. Upon receiving what we’ve waited for, we quickly re-enter the waiting mode for something else because we ultimately want connection. We cannot have a satisfying connection to things because they can’t connect back. We can have a satisfying connection to people because they reciprocate, but they still can’t fulfill our deepest need for connection, which is to connect with God. Third, we must understand it well. We need to have an understanding of what the waiting is for, and not just selfishly. Deployments were made easier when Soldiers saw that they were able to make a difference in the the lives of the local people. Christmas is more satisfying when we remember that original wait for a savior and understand that we wait now for his soon return. This is the height of waiting well. There will be no post-return let down. Jesus is the gift that always and ultimately satisfies.