Hurry Up and Wait
Yesterday, I was having coffee with a friend who is the pastor of a church here in Asheville. He told me that he keeps realizing how much of our spiritual lives depends on Waiting. For him, waiting for the church to grow-- (don't push things so people feel tension and desperation radiating from the church staff). For others, waiting for answers to prayers, waiting for inspiration, waiting for dreams to come true, waiting for a sense of God's presence. Oh, and by the way, you may wait and wait and not get an answer. You may wait and wait and get disappointment or hurt.
We're terrible at waiting. Glowing screens (phones, internet, etc.) don't help, as there is always something to distract ourselves with while waiting. Our gadget use, with answers ever-present, also gives us a heightened sense of control. By default this means that our ability to sit with "not-knowing" is weaker (exhibit A, when the Malaysian airlines jet disappeared, CNN actually started exploring whether UFOs could have been involved once they had explored all possible scenarios, because how could it be possible not to have an answer?).
Waiting can involve anxiety, boredom, lack of productivity, and mystery. Terrible, right? Well, maybe not. As my friend and I were talking about waiting, I suddenly realized that this was the perfect conversation to be having during this Advent season. Advent is the time, in the Christian church, when we prepare for Christmas, i.e. the time when God came to the world to forgive us, love us, and rescue us. The whole point, basically, of Advent, is that waiting is sacred.
Waiting well involves sitting with the not-knowing, the mystery, and going deeper into ourselves and our community. It means quieting our minds, pausing the compulsion to be useful and busy, and heightening our attention to the Now, even if right now feels boring or uncomfortable. Sacred waiting involves contemplation. Contemplation makes us more patient, more compassionate, more loving, more tolerant, and more aware of the ways that we're loved by God (this is even proven by scientific research!). Waiting isn't just about what we're waiting for, it's about who we become in the waiting process.
This Advent season, whether you are someone who celebrates Advent/Christmas or not, practice slowing down and waiting. Make a point of setting down the phone more. Set time limits for online distraction. Spend more time being quiet and pondering. Re-learn how to be bored or unsure. Be still and wait.