Waiting without a calendar

by Kristin on November 30, 2009

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo by Amy Loves Yah

I love the feeling of anticipation. There are many things, big and small, that I anticipate, but nothing encompasses the feeling quite like Advent—that season when waiting is perfectly wrapped in anticipation, and presented as the best of gifts.

Anticipation is what makes the waiting delicious, satisfying and bearable.

As a child, lighting Advent candles, creating a handmade Advent calendar, and following the well-worn path of other rituals and traditions leading up to Christmas worked its magic on me. The anticipation and excitement built until I could hardly stand it, culminating at the Christmas Eve service, in a sanctuary full of candle light and beloved Christmas hymns. Each year, the service at my home church ends with Silent Night, perfectly timed so the final acapella verse—”Jesus Lord at thy birth”—fades at midnight…a pause…then the organ triumphantly begins its postlude, the lights are turned on, and everyone hugs, exclaiming “Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!” That was the moment I had been waiting for.

Later, as a college student, I waited for that moment when my last final exam was handed in and I could hurry through the Michigan winter back to my dorm room, finish packing, and head home. The date was on my calendar, and my parents knew in advance exactly when to pick me up. After college, I counted down weeks and days to my wedding. Five years later, I owned a book that described, week by week, exactly how the baby in my womb was forming—the ears are fully formed, and the toes, now the baby has finger nails and knows how to suck!

Waiting. Anticipating. Counting down the days to a known end-point, a known result: Christmas will come. Exam week will end. This baby will be born.

A less certain type of waiting

Now, as I reflect on the idea of “waiting” at the start of this Advent season, it feels like a different creature, one void of the comforting certainty that breeds anticipation.

Sure, there are still specific moments I wait for with anticipation: our upcoming trip to visit my family for the holidays, the completion of a work project, the vacation we’re planning for the summer. So much of my waiting, though, has become more complex. I wait for a sign, for a change of heart. I wait for inspiration and direction, for complete healing and reconciliation. I wait for the life I live each day to align with the life I envision in my head and crave in my soul.

In other words, the things I really find myself waiting for can’t be marked on the calendar.

There aren’t four candles to light, one each week, as I grow nearer to that point of arrival. There isn’t that building of excitement as the moment inevitably draws close. The anticipation is stripped away, and I’m left with the waiting—periods of hope clouded by periods of doubt: Am I waiting for the right things? Am I hoping for too much? Will I even know when the waiting is over?

Promises to fuel our waiting

As I sat in church this first Sunday of Advent, though, I realized that’s exactly the kind of waiting we’re actually doing, as Christians. I mean, it’s important that we observe Advent as a journey toward December 25, the specific day we celebrate God becoming flesh and dwelling among us. It’s important to teach our children that waiting can be exciting and so rewarding, and to demonstrate it with wreaths of candles and special calendars with small doors to open, gradually revealing the full picture.

But it’s that full picture—the really big one—that we’re actually waiting for. We’re waiting for things on earth to be as they are in heaven, and we don’t have a date on the calendar for that, any more than I have a date for when I’ll stop feeling hurt about difficult things in my past.

It’s true, sometimes it feels like the most futile of waiting games. We do have God’s promises, though. One of the scriptures read at my church yesterday was Jeremiah 33:19-26, where God tells Jeremiah that he can count on God’s covenant promises as much as Jeremiah counts on the rising of the sun following each night.

Those promises take what seems so abstract and uncertain in our waiting, and wraps it in the kind of anticipation we need to keep moving forward in hope.

_________________

This post will be a part of a series at Christine Sine’s blog Godspace: What Are We Waiting For This Advent? If you’re celebrating Advent or would like to learn more about it, you should definitely check it out.

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  • http://thealchemistblog.wordpress.com Gen

    Excellent points. Great minds must think alike–I just posted about anticipation! Well, more like expectations. And mine is about cookie exchanges and a giveaway, so…substantially less deep material. ;D

    I really like that you mentioned not having a date for when you’ll stop feeling hurt over the past. That really, really struck a chord with me. I’ve been told before to “decide” to be over them, but it’s just not as simple as all that. Or is it? Perhaps I should try, and just decide that from now on, I’m just not allowed to dwell on those hurts because I’ve intentionally dropped them?

    Good stuff…

  • http://www.etherealjoy.blogspot.com Joy

    I think your post really defines Faith–waiting in anticipation for something you believe in fully, yet isn’t tangible or concrete. I had probably the same book while I was pregnant and I love that it took the unknown and made it clear and real for me–this week expect this to happen, this week expect this and so on. It took some of my fear away and allowed me to be more relaxed and excited. I sometimes wish there was a similar manual for living–if you take this particular step, expect this to happen, and so on…..Although I am sometimes so out of the box that if there was a manual I’d probably have my own take on following it:)
    I love Advent. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations, I love the Advent calendar and calendars and celebrations that all remind me what the true celebration is all about.

  • http://hollyhouse.blogspot.com Jennifer

    I like you! I like the way you think and the church you attend. I have been thinking similar thoughts these days, which I suppose comes courtesy of great minds, and the holidays. I have been thinking today about helping my kids, each day in advent, look past the gift idea requests from relatives and remember what it is about. Our pastor said the most important aspect yesterday: Christmas is only the beginning. He was born to die and so to me it seems a bittersweet celebration.

    I like the idea you articulate about waiting for some kind of internal growth over a day on a calendar. This kind of thinking emphasizes authentic living, thoughtful decisions, and character development. Just when we get to the one character trait we pursue, there is another waiting to grow.

    Be blessed today as you have blessed me, friend.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Gen, I think expectations have a lot to do with anticipation (and cookies play an important role during the holidays). Anyway, I really enjoyed your post. Regarding things we’re waiting for, like getting over past hurts, I’m pretty sure we can’t just “decide” to heal. We can make things worse by dwelling on the negatives and picking at scabs, and we can make things better by honestly acknowledging the hurts and trying to move on in positive ways. But you can’t just “decide” to heal any more than you can decide to be done having a broken arm. It takes time, and each case is different. That doesn’t mean we can’t truly enjoy where we are while we wait. :)

    Joy, that’s so great that you are familiar with that pregnancy book I referenced. I love how you put this: “…I love that it took the unknown and made it clear and real for me.” That’s really what we want more than anything, isn’t it? The fuzzy made clear, the unreal made real, the unknown, known. I guess you’re right—what I’m describing in my post is faith, but it often just feels like so much wandering in the desert.

    Jennifer, your comment made me smile so much I’m sure I looked like a fool. Sometimes you feel like no one is reading (or no one is getting what you’re trying to say), you know? But then I get three comments like these and everything feels right again. Anyway, your pastor is right—Christmas is only the beginning. And you are right—”Just when we get to the one character trait we pursue, there is another waiting to grow.” And while that may seem exhausting at times, it is also very exciting (and I am very thankful to have friends like you inspiring me along the way).

  • http://www.ordinarymer.com Meredith

    While I like your ideas about “waiting can be exciting and so rewarding,” I think we can get too caught up in the waiting and miss what’s here right now. I think the beauty of Advent comes from enjoying Advent, not just waiting for the 4 weeks to be over so we can get to Christmas. It’s almost like a reminder to slow down and not rush.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    I’ve been learning that sometimes in the times of waiting God has already begun to answer our prayers and to start bringing his new thing even if we don’t see it coming. Our deliverance is already in the works, but it’s not ready to be revealed yet.
    As always, great post.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Meredith, I absolutely agree. I have to say, that’s one of the main things I learned from being pregnant—in retrospect I wished that I had enjoyed my freedom more, and spent less time and energy focused on what I was waiting for. I guess it’s probably biological, to some extent, but still, it was a good life lesson. What we’re waiting for can inform and color where we are, but it shouldn’t distract from where we are.

    Ed, that’s a great point. I guess that’s exactly what Advent is about—not waiting for God to get his act in gear, but waiting for all the exciting stuff he’s busy working on to be revealed. I need to remember that and practice applying it to my own periods of waiting. Thanks for the reminder!