Monday, December 3, 2018

We Sat. Waiting.

Decades ago, which unsettles me somewhat that seminary is that far in my past, my spiritual director and I sat in silence before we began to speak about all things stirring in my soul during Advent. For me in seminary, this meant final papers, exams, travel plans, an upcoming meeting with my bishop, and responsibilities in our seminary chapel as well as the church where I served.

I had much to tell her.

And yet, when I walked in and sat down, after our initial greeting, she invited me to wait with her in silence before either of us said anything else.

My busy soul did not want to wait. The first few moments were filled with itchy irritation, an urgency swirled inside of me that wanted desperately to speak NOW, as if my words had a shelf life. 

But she was my spiritual director and a nun, and few things snap me into obedience like the holy sisters of our faith. 

So I sat. Waiting.

We sat. Waiting.

Waiting in silence. We were in the presence of each other and our souls for what seemed like hours. Slowly, the urgency of my words unknotted in the space. I felt my shoulders drop several inches. My emotions of the day and the week and of the time since we last spoke began to order themselves into discernible feelings instead of the one that took up the most space in my soul because it shouted the loudest. 

Only then, after the air in the space between us leveled, the mountains of urgency brought down and the valleys of the things I really needed to speak of were lifted up, did we begin with words of prayer.

And in that one moment, I realized one of the vital messages, the deeply crucial lessons of Advent. 

We humans need to practice waiting.

But we don’t. We live in a world of instant opportunities to comment, to like, and to share. When we send text messages or emails, we expect an immediate response. We want next-day delivery from books we order online and from God when we engage in deep discernment. And when it doesn’t come, we become like a three year old who has had too much sugar and too little sleep. 


Waiting gives us space and time to hear the voice of God in the cacophony of our lives. When we are grieving, anxious, or angry, all the voices are yelling at once so we hear only the loudest (which is almost always not the one we need to heed) or the noise combines into silence and we have no idea what to do. We react with only impulse and without holy wisdom. Waiting is that moment when we can’t remember the name of someone or a book title in the moment, usually because we’re distracted or our brains are working overtime, and in the quietness of washing the dishes or watering or plants, it comes to us. We recognize what we need to know, what we need to be aware of, or even what we need to remember because we wait.

When we wait, we remind ourselves that some moments and events in our lives demand we give our selves and souls time to unknot, to breathe deeply and to listen to the voice of God leading us almost always on a path we likely don’t want to walk.

Pastors and therapists often advise people to wait for some time after the death of a loved one before making momentous decisions, if circumstances allow. Rebound relationships after a divorce or ending of a relationship are cautioned against because they don’t allow for waiting, and often cut the wound in our souls even more…or allow us a continued way to ignore unhelpful patterns in our own lives. 

A rabbi friend of mine, while we were co-leading a retreat on anger, suggested we allow three days before responding to something that made us angry to give God time to sort our emotions, a bit of wisdom that has helped me many times and, when I’ve ignored it, I almost always find myself wishing I hadn’t. He remarked that if, after three days, we were still angry at the situation or person, we could then ask God to reveal how to move forward with the process of repentance with kindness and love. But often, he added, in three days, we might realize we are really angry with something else and the situation or person triggered us. Waiting with God offers a way for us to begin to understand what we are ignoring in our own lives and what we need to focus on without the damage our actions and words in haste may add to the situation.

Waiting gives us that space to enter the wisdom of our unconscious as almost nothing else can.

Waiting is deeply open-ended. When I consciously engage in waiting, whether it be waiting to respond to an email that feels wounding to me or engaging in prolonged discernment with God, I have ceded control of a situation. I have consciously, although not always happily, acknowledged that my first response or my hundredth response may not be helpful or loving. I may have to hear a holy No or a holy Yes or a change of plans. But only waiting for what may come will offer this insight.

Waiting is scary. Humans have an innate fear of the unknown, and waiting, being the open-ended act of faith it is, plunges right into the unknown with God. The unknown with God is oftentimes scary and fearful. Anger is almost always fear’s bodyguard, so when I feel anger take all the air in my soul by yelling the loudest, God almost always reminds me to wait and pray while anger sorts herself out into what I’m angry about because something is wrong and hurtful and what I’m angry about because I’m afraid. 

Waiting is a profound act of humility.  When we sit, waiting to renew our car tag, how many of us are annoyed because we have other things to do that we deem more important without regard to the people working at the desks and their circumstances or stories? How often are we mad that the schedule doesn't fit OUR timeline? Waiting invites us to crawl our of our own skins, our own experiences, and our own egos that whisper words of temptation making our schedules, needs, and time so much more valuable that others. Waiting reminds us, in a deeply grounded way, that life is not all about us. We are part of a larger creation, and all creation waits.

God is a God of eons. God is not a fan of instant gratification. Instead, the people of faith wait for miraculous births and wander for forty years as they are shaped into the people of God. We Christians wait for three days to see if Jesus will be resurrected. Waiting, in only the way waiting can, puts us in our human place to allow our souls to wait for the guidance of the Lord.

Advent is a season the church dedicates to waiting, to being courageous enough not to react instantly, but to sit and let the crashing waves of our souls still in the presence of God. 

This Advent, find time and space to wait, in open-ended, courageous, and humble faith. 


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