"I hate waiting just about as much as anything in this world. I will not eat at a restaurant if I have to stand and wait. I will not even approach a freeway entrance if there is any possibility I will have to sit in traffic. In Milwaukee, I will drive twenty extra minutes, the complete length of State Street or Wisconsin Avenue, in order to avoid coming to a standstill on the freeway. If I have to wait in line at the grocery store, I will bossily charge up to the manager and ask why customers are waiting and suggest they open a new checkout lane without delay.
"I obviously could use a good dose of Advent.
"The season of Advent, more than any other time of the church year, invites us to embrace the spiritual discipline of waiting. The season of Advent will not be rushed. The Advent carols must be sung, the Advent candles must be lighted week by week, and the doors of the Advent Calendar must be opened day by day. Christmas will finally come when all the expectant Scriptures have been read and when the baby has finally been born.
"Twenty-two years ago I stood at the pulpit of Redeemer Church on the first Sunday of Advent, waiting. I was twenty-nine years old and nine-months pregnant with our second child. Looking like a Mack truck that Sunday, I preached about Advent while I waited to give birth. Being pregnant during Advent is a rich and marvelous experience. Pregnancy, perhaps more than anything else, teaches the gifts of waiting. That year I was waiting not only for a baby to be born, but for other things as well. I was waiting to be employed and was looking for a church. I was waiting to make friends. I was waiting for a time to stop grieving the small university community we had just left. I was waiting for money to buy a new furnace. I was waiting for Milwaukee to feel like home.
"Every stage of our lives involves some new form of waiting. When our children are tiny, we wait years for a good night's sleep. When our children are toddlers, we wait eagerly for the time when they will no longer wear diapers, can take a bath on their own, and get dressed by themselves. When our children are teenagers and driving, we often wait anxiously until we hear the front door close and know they are safely home. And at any stage of life, we can experience waiting for the results of medical tests. This kind of waiting is perhaps the hardest of all. A weekend can seem like an eternity if we are waiting to find out whether a tumor is malignant or benign.
"Waiting presents an enormous challenge. We are impatient, I-can-fix-it kinds of people . . . but not all situations can be fixed. We assume that everything in life can be made better by taking action, but sometimes it just isn't so.
"A writer whose retreat I was attending talked about a single friend who, at age forty, decided she would like to adopt a child. This woman did her homework and talked to several adoption agencies. When she was told that the process of adopting a child would take at the very least a year, she said, 'Forget it. I just don't have that kind of time.'
"We shrink when we are presented with situations where action does no good at all. We deplore the passivity of waiting. Yet waiting is an enormous opportunity if we regard it as a wise teacher. Waiting offers us a great deal when we choose to learn.
"Waiting is an important guest to honor in the guest house of our humanity. If we consciously allow waiting to be our teacher, we can accommodate waiting more peacefully. If we welcome waiting as a spiritual discipline, waiting will present its spiritual gifts. Waiting contains some of our richest spiritual opportunities if we are conscious enough and courageous enough to name them and live into them.
"Bingo halls and casinos often post the sign, 'You must be present to win.' In order to convert the inescapable lessons of waiting into deliberate spiritual gifts, we, too, have to be present; we need to pay attention. We need to actively participate in this dramatic conversion from waiting as something to be endured to waiting as a gift.
"The Bible has many dramatic stories about waiting. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years waiting to get into the Promised Land. Jacob waited fourteen years before winning the hand of Rachel, his beloved. The Apostle Paul waited over and over to be released from prison. Jesus waited forty days in the desert temped by the devil."