Advent: Recovering The Lost Art of Waiting
Advent is a season of the liturgical year observed in most Christian denominations as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for both the celebration of the birth of Christ at Christmas and the return of Christ. Blog Contributor Amanda Opelt shares three ways we can actively participate in this special season.
By Amanda Opelt, Blog Contributor
I recently heard someone pose the question, “What did we do in waiting rooms at doctor's offices before we had iPhones?”
It’s no secret that the art of waiting has been lost on most Americans. We all know that restless, fitful feeling that comes with stillness or delay: a traffic jam, a long line at the grocery store, the hold music on a customer service line. Our bodies have been conditioned to resist impediments, to view inaction as an inferior state. And so we seek to either numb the agitation by scrolling through our phones or defy inertia by finding something to do to make us feel productive in these motionless moments.
Yet here we are in 2020, and we’ve been asked to endure a long wait. Sometimes it can feel like we’ve been forever waiting: for a vaccine, for an end to the outbreak, for a return to normalcy. Compared to other global pandemics (the Black Plague of the 1300s lasted 5 years and wiped out almost half of Europe’s population), our current outbreak comes with the benefit of robust healthcare systems, opportunity for connectivity in spite of isolation (thanks Zoom!), and a historically expedited development of a vaccine. Nevertheless, we are a population uniquely outfitted to despise the waiting this circumstance has required. As cases increase with the colder weather, our resolve and vigilance wears thin even as it desperately needs to rally.
Now, we step into a season that honors waiting: Advent. As I count down the days before I can hug my parents, dine at my favorite restaurants, and toss out all those masks, I think of the Israelites, who sojourned 400 years as slaves in Egypt, who spent 70 years in exile in Babylon, who waited for the promised Messiah for generation after generation. They endured 400 years of turmoil and colonization during the Intertestamental period, a season marked perhaps most starkly by the apparent silence of God. How tempted they must have been to give up, to cry out in anger “how long, oh Lord?”
So here we wait, in our own “how long?” season. I am not the first person to note our society’s aversion to patience and waiting. But something I’ve been asking myself is this: how do I recover this lost art of patience? How do I salvage my ability to be still and reclaim my tolerance for discomfort?
Three necessary virtues come to mind.
The first is humility. We live in a world where our individual freedoms are constantly affirmed and we are conditioned to believe that we deserve the very best. This is perhaps a helpful corrective to the brow beating belittling of hyper-legalism. But we’ve taken self-importance and entitlement too far. In some sense, there’s nothing really special about me.
I am human. I live in a broken world. None of us is exempt from suffering, no matter how easy our life has been up to this point, no matter how many good, responsible decisions we have made, no matter how honorable or noble a person we are. If I can shake off the shock of this adversity, then, I can begin to allow it to mold me in some remarkable ways.
The second virtue is curiosity. I’ve come to believe that an attitude of curiosity is the cornerstone of spiritual formation. Rather than resist my circumstance, I begin to ask humble questions of it: what might God be teaching me through this? Are there ways I could grow more like Christ through this experience? What has He called me to do and who has He called me to be in this moment?
So rather than resentment, I can watch this season unfold with a childlike interest and awe, eager to see what God will do.
Finally, a third virtue required is presence. This is something my counselor refers to as attention to detail. I struggle with this when I find myself in a situation I desperately want to be out of. Rather than fully inhabiting my body and the physical space I am in, my mind and heart reside in that hoped-for future. I numb (with entertainment, food/drink, busyness, etc.) in an attempt to accelerate time. But my counselor encourages me to attend to the things around me. There is beauty to be found, even in this painful season: the warmth of a fire, the smell of a pie in the oven, the taste of a cup of coffee, the feel of the air just before snowfall.
This decision to savor is a survival skill, one that the writer of Ecclesiastes lauds as a primary attribute of wise and holy living. He spends an entire book of the Bible talking about how hard and frustrating life is and then says this:
For some of us, this pandemic has been more than a mere inconvenience. It has been truly catastrophic. We’ve lost loved ones, a job, our health. If this is your experience, then Advent is for you. Its heartbeat and rhythms are designed to tell a story of pain.
Traditionally, the four weeks of Advent are oriented around four themes: hope, peace, joy, and love. theHeart is providing a series of Study Sessions focused on the season of Advent here. May they offer you encouragement.
And may we embrace these themes as we embrace the virtues of waiting through suffering:
May humility lead you to hope in something outside of yourself and your circumstances.
May curiosity lead you to peace, knowing that God is at work in us even as we wait and watch.
May presence lead you to joy as you savor what small things there are for which we can be grateful.
And may all of these things lead to love, which “binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14).
Over the next 4 weeks, theHeart will be focusing on the season of Advent. In the first segment, Josh Anderson, Pastor of Connection and Formation, takes a closer look at how we can pursue hope found fully in the person of Christ rather than in ups and downs of our circumstances. Start watching today on our mobile app. Text "theheart app" to 77977.