I don’t like sitting in the car. I don’t like it one bit. Because of it, I’ve been pushing yellow lights all week to try and speed up the waiting. And of course, I am then chided by a red light just as I skim across the intersection. Oops. Yes, I know it’s slippery and extremely possible that I could spin out and hit somebody in this kind of weather, but I go zany in the car at any time of year. The taillights. The pattern of gas, break, gas till your foot hurts. The fiddling with the heat – you get it just right, and then all of a sudden your car is the Sahara Desert and you are one hot traveler… but wait, you’re not actually going anywhere, you’re sitting dead still at a red light!
The iiinching, iiinching down the highway as you staccato-jab the preset radio buttons 1,2,3,4,5… 1,2,3,4,5 because you don’t want to jam to anything you hear, but you want something to fill the silence. It’s just no good, none of it! The talk radio, the Christmas tunes, the freakin’ ESPN!
Waiting births impatience. I can withstand quick car rides. Five minutes? Ten? If I have a car buddy, maybe twenty five. But after much longer than that, I just want to get out of the car. I just don’t want to be stuck in traffic anymore.
I’m waiting, you’re waiting…
It’s 34 days until my wedding. Short, right? We’ve been waiting for this day for years. And now, the time is nearly here. I think back to when I went to school in Michigan, and Alex was in Fargo, or Minneapolis. The semester would start and we’d stare at the nine weeks until a break. Golly. Laugh if you want, but it sometimes felt so bleak. Now, our wedding is a month away and we will be together forever afterwards, but it’s still hard to wait. We count each day as it passes. When will our wedding day arrive?
Every one of us waits for so many things. Holidays, for one. Graduations. Babies to come. Friends to visit, family to stop by. Good things! And then there are the daily waits. Traffic. Lines. Better weather. Waiting for pages to load on our browsers, for the oven timer to go off, for an idea to strike. For an opening. A change.
And harder waits – waiting for a relationship to heal, a child to repent, a sickness to go away. A job search to end. A loved one to die. Eternity to come. Christ to return.
What can we do while we wait?
Right now I’m reading M.L. Steadman’s book The Light Between Oceans. Set in post-World War I Australia, an ex-soldier takes a job tending a lighthouse on an isolated point off of Australia’s western coast. For months on end, he is alone, waiting, taking care of the light and tending to his daily chores. He waits … for what? For time to pass? For the next ship to bring him supplies? For his life to end?
He works, and he waits, and this is what the book says about it:
It’s a hard job, and a busy one… The days can leave him exhausted and sore, worried by the look of a storm front coming in at a gallop, or frustrated by the way hailstones crush the vegetable patch. But if he doesn’t think about it too hard, he knows who he is and what he’s for. He just has to keep the light burning. Nothing more.
Pastors and theologians often frame Advent as a time of waiting. While we await Christmas’s coming, we imitate the waiting that the people of Israel, the Jews, endured for many years as they hoped for a Messiah who would save them. We know Jesus was born in that stable over 2,000 long years ago. Our waiting is mostly pretend at Christmastime because we know the ending. But we still ride the rhythms of anticipation, singing “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” and meditating on prophecies that the Jews would have read as they sought hope in the midst of their dark life ruled by Rome.
I like what I read recently in a blog written by Margaret Manning, who is on the writing and speaking team of Ravi Zacharias. In her post entitled “Waiting,” she captures the hard essence of waiting:
The patience required by waiting is counterintuitive in our busy, fast-paced world. When our daily lives are made up of high speed Internet, instant messaging, and fast food, waiting for anything seems like an eternity. Moreover, in a world where so much beckons us, waiting asks us to be still and this can feel meaningless. English poet John Milton once wrote that those who serve stand and wait. Indeed, waiting asks us to be disciplined, self-controlled, and emotionally mature as the world speeds by us.
And then I love as she turns and recognizes how we can withstand it:
Waiting comprises a large part of the Christian worldview. But it is not the useless waiting of “the waiting place” that Dr. Seuss writes about, nor is it simply waiting for certain things or events, a trip or a raise, or even fulfillment. Christians await the return of Jesus in glory. The season of Advent that precedes Christmas is a season of hope-filled waiting.
Hope-filled waiting. How do we wait?
We keep the light burning, and we let hope turn our impatience into inner peace – the kind that gives us strength for the wait.