What’s the Point of Waiting?
By Beth Doherty30 Nov 2014
Is there some area of your life in which you are being asked to wait? I’m sitting here in rural Paraguay waiting, waiting for a hummingbird to settle on a flower for long enough that I can take its photo using my telephoto lens. It’s quite a beautiful bird, and it flits and flies for a brief moment and moves on, always too fast for me to catch it. Here it’s called a “picaflor”, literally, a flowerpicker, and while it is reasonably common, it is elusive as well. It has become something of a symbol for me here, a call to patience.
As we enter the season of advent, we enter that rich time in the church’s calendar where we “wait in joyful hope for the coming of our saviour.”
In modern life, at least in Australia, this time of year brings the anticipation of holidays. Perhaps more than a month ago department stores started bringing out the Santa paraphernalia, commercialising on the season. For Christians of course, this season means a lot more, and the gifts under the tree carry a special significance.
The season of Advent is about waiting, but waiting in joy.
Sometimes we are conscious of the waiting more than other times.
A number of my friends have weddings coming up. Obviously the anticipation of the big day and a life spent together brings deep emotion. Others are giving birth to children, some of those children have been dreamt of over many years. Those significant events bring higher anxiety, they turn up the volume on the process of waiting.
Time as they say is to stop everything happening at once. Time and growth bring wisdom and learning.
The scripture from Ecclesiastes 3:1 gives us a scriptural basis for waiting. “A time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot”. With the changing of seasons of course there will be moments of turmoil and moments of excitement. The emotions can sometimes dominate us. In those moments, I find the great Saint Teresa of Avila’s prayer helpful: let nothing trouble you, let nothing disturb you, all things pass, but God doesn’t change. Patience attains all things, and only God is enough. This prayer and the scripture from Ecclesiastes give great comfort, especially when the waiting is hard.
So, the waiting is good. Good things don’t come all at once, nor do bad.
When we were children, my mum made a special effort with advent, and because of this, I remember the time with fondness. We had a plastic nativity set complete with snow-white Jesus, Mary and Joseph and a token black wise man. Each night, mum would light our advent candles, and while singing “Away in a manger” we would march our wise men a little closer to the Christmas tree. They would start advent at the far end of the loungeroom and end up, on Christmas Eve, just a few centimetres away from where baby Jesus was hidden behind the tree.
Of course for us the presents were pretty exciting too, and mum and dad wouldn’t allow us to open even one present without attending morning mass on Christmas Day.
Unwrapping the presents is another good symbol. Unwrapping a present isn’t a passive activity, it’s an engaged and attentive activity. Waiting also is not passive.
Recently while on retreat, I was speaking to a priest about the frustration of not knowing my exact calling in life. I felt like 32 was too late to make a decision and I was wondering why I was having to wait so long for some clarity.
He asked me to tell my story of faith from as far back as I could remember. As I wrote pages and pages of story, I realised something: I had been living. It’s not like I had been stuck with my head in the clouds since I turned 18. I’ve done lots of interesting things that actually have pointed and developed to my vocation. The priest then explicitly pointed this out to me. I haven’t simply been waiting all this time for God to be present in an obvious way, I haven’t sat for months on end asking God where I should go next, (although perhaps at times it would have done me a load of good to listen a bit more) I have been living intentionally. As they say, life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans. And more often than not, the plan is far more creative and surprising than you could have ever imagined.
In this living of life, I have made mistakes, I have taken paths that have led me toward Emmanuel and away from him, but all of this has formed part of my waiting in joyful hope.
This advent, I’ve decided to live even more intentionally. I’m coming to the end of a chapter and not sure what the next one holds. My friends who are marrying, or about to give birth, or even just moving more or less in the same direction also wait, not knowing what will come. There will surely be equal shares of laughter, pain, joy and sorrow. And this is the adventure of life. But advent gives the impetus to reflect, to slowly unwrap this joyful mystery, and get to know this word made flesh in the now and in the future.