The (spiritual) practice of waiting

12.29 Tilden2

Waiting to wait

Advent didn’t sneak up on me this year.

When you work at a church, your professional deadlines are entwined with the liturgical calendar. It isn’t just about decorations and holiday plans any more: Advent is my job.

So I’ve been preparing and planning for Advent — waiting for a season of waiting.

We’ve been explaining to the kids at church that Christmas is a mystery, and it’s so special that we have to spend four weeks getting ready. This is a time of quiet hope, knowing expectation.

Practice makes patient

“What if someone is impatient?” one of the first graders asks me, and I have to admit, her question is an important one.

How do we celebrate Advent if we’re impatient people?

What do we do when waiting doesn’t come easy? When we aren’t comfortable with the time of silence and not-yet? When we’ve become too instant and accessible, too busy to slow down?

“Well,” I tell her, “Advent is a good time to practice waiting.”

And that’s just it: we have to practice it. Not just in the daily rehearsal, until-we-get-it-right kind of way, but in the spiritual practice kind of way. We have to mold our hearts around it, weave it into our lives.

The challenge of waiting can come in big ways — waiting for a job offer or a diagnosis, waiting for a proposal or a baby, waiting for healing in a broken relationship — or it can come in small ways — waiting for the bus or a phone call, waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting for the end of the work day.

But big or small, when waiting challenges us, we have a chance to practice and move deeper into our waiting. We have a chance to call ourselves back to the mystery of Advent, the miracle of an incarnated God, come to be with us.

How then shall we wait?

I believe that the way we wait changes our relationship to what it is we wait for. We can wait with fear, with dread, with insecurity, with anxiety.

That attitude will color not only our period of waiting but the end of it as well: it will color how we receive that for which we’ve waited.

But we can also wait with hope, with peace, with confidence, with understanding, with gentleness. This, too, will change our experience of waiting and our experience of receiving.

So this year, I’m paying attention to the quality of my waiting, the attitude of my expectant heart. Because no matter how much we’ve practiced, we can always get better.

Friends, where do you find yourselves this Advent? How well-practiced are you at waiting? With what kind of attitude are you waiting for the mystery of Christmas?

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2 Comments

Filed under Advent 2012, Liturgy, My Faith Journey, Spirituality

2 responses to “The (spiritual) practice of waiting

  1. Amy

    “The way we wait changes our relationship to the thing we wait for.” Simply, yes, yes, yes. I am in the midst of waiting for a big change … and part of me just wants to rush through this phase. Thank you for the gentle reminder.

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