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