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The Excited-Patience of Advent

December 8, 2012

I had dinner with a dear friend recently and I asked her − in the candid and prying way that good friends do − if her recent nannying job was inspiring her & her husband to start having kids.  She laughed.  “It makes me excited-patient,” she said, which is the perfect descriptor for that situation:  excited, of course, about the joys of parenting and shepherding a new life in this world; yet patient, after experiencing first-hand the exhaustive, consuming responsibilities of doing so.  Excited-patient … enthused, but not yet ready; actively getting ready, all the while sensing that the time is not quite right yet.

Her impromptu phrasing reminded me a little of Advent, and how this season in the church calendar continues to be one of the most difficult for me to observe faithfully.  I love the “excited” part of Christmas:  the decorating, the gift-buying, the gathering of loved ones.  I love the season of anticipation and joy and merriment.  I love peppermint-flavored-anything, and most of all, Christmas caroling.  The excited part, I’ve got down.

But patient.  Patience is much more difficult to wrangle.  I hardly have the patience to wait for the coffeemaker to finish brewing in the morning, much less wait a month during this season of the liturgical year before I can begin celebrating with gusto.  And yet, I feel very keenly what this season calls us to:  a reminder that, like the Hebrew people waited hundreds of years for their Messiah, their savior, we too wait … nearly two thousand years, and counting … for his return.  For the time when he will restore all things, fully and wholly, to himself; for the appearance of our Lord in all his glory.  For all that we teach and believe and hope for to be finally manifest.

But waiting is hard, especially in an age of instant gratification, where we’ve come to expect and demand the ability to satisfy our desires immediately.  And, thankfully, many Christians understand that, and preach it, and recognize that the truth of our dependency on and satisfaction in Christ is inherently incongruous with a life of instantaneous indulgence.  But there’s more than — our culture’s implicit messaging runs far deeper than the readily-apparent urges to indulge ourselves.

There’s another message that society preaches, one which tells us that sitting around and waiting for something to happen is a sign of the weak.  The strong and the wise go out and make their future themselves, take charge of their fate.  Only the lazy and the unmotivated “wait” for life to happen to them.  You want a new job, a better you, a different life for yourself?  Go out and make it happen!

For me, in this particular season, this is the underlying message of Advent that I need to drink in.  I feel it; the pressure to go out and do more and be more.  It makes me question my career, my time, my talents, myself.  Am I waiting too much?  Should I be doing more?  Have I succumbed to the ease of passivity?  Should I be accomplishing more with my youth?

I find these words from Henri Nouwen to be challenging and comforting in this season:

A waiting person is a patient person. The word “patience” means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere. The moment is empty. But patient people dare to stay where they are. Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there. Waiting, then, is not passive. It involves nurturing the moment, as a mother nurtures the child that is growing in her womb.

Henri Nouwen, “Eternal Seasons”

” … in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.”  When I pause, and consider my life, I hear the voice that whispers beneath the blaring message of our culture to go out and take hold of my future.  Beyond all that distraction, the truth affirms to me that God is faithful.  Sometimes it takes months, or years, but there comes a moment when He reminds me:  Do you see it now?  Do you understand?  This is why you are here.  This is why you have been called to be present in this place.  I am teaching you, I am shaping you, I am using you.  Wait, daughter, and trust.

I pray for the grace, and for that holy excited-patience, to be able to sit in this season and in all seasons of life and nurture the moment, trusting completely in the goodness of God and all that He has.

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