My Dear One,
I recently found myself impatiently waiting for a stoplight to turn green. Perhaps you can relate. The longer I waited, the more discomfort I felt, even though I knew it meant that the time to proceed was closer than it had been before. So, I began to wonder, if I knew progress was being made why was my anxiety increasing rather than decreasing? Logically, it made no sense. My anxiety should be decreasing the longer I waited, not increasing. I knew I had no choice but to be patient. I knew full well that to pull out into a busy intersection before it was time would certainly lead to disaster. So what was my issue?
Today is a good day to raise this question because today is the first day of the season of Advent which is all about what to do while we wait. Leading up to the season of Christmas, Advent is an annual season of waiting and preparation both for the Christmas celebration to come and, more especially, for the expected return of Christ at his second coming. The word advent comes from the Latin adventus which is often translated as “coming” or “approach.” Living in this beautiful and beloved yet incomplete and imperfect world, we wait with great expectation for the fully realized presence of Christ in our midst - making right all our wrongs, bringing to completion all that remains undone.
This is important spiritual work for me. Though people occasionally commend me for my patience, I assure you it is a skill I have had to work to develop. I am impatient by nature. I know this because both of my parents have told me a story from when I was a very young child, around four years old or so. They were apparently debating whether or not we were going to leave the house to go to an event. After listening to them go back and forth about it for so long, the story goes, I finally said in exasperation, “If we do let’s do and if we don’t let’s don’t!”
I know I am not alone. Many people have an inherent discomfort in not making something (anything?) happen. Though it can at times spur us to useful action, there are many times when our discomfort with indecision leads us to premature and rash actions. Though the warning signs were already there if we’d only heeded them, it often only becomes completely evident to us after the fact. Maybe it wasn’t the right time. Maybe we weren’t as ready as we thought we were. Maybe … we should have waited just a bit longer.
Our impatience often stems from one of two anxieties: the desire for resolution or the desire for fruition. We seek resolution of things we think could go bad. We seek fruition of things we think could go well. There is nothing wrong about either resolution or fruition, but both take time. Issues often need time to come to a good resolution. Attempting to force them into final form is like thinking that if it takes 30 minutes to bake a cake at 350F then it will only take 15 minutes to bake it at 700F. It’s just not the way life works. Likewise, we cannot bring anything to early fruition. Another lovely translation of the Latin adventus is “ripening.” It is a time for the slow and steady ripening of our faith, our trust in God’s goodness and abundance not only now but in the time to come. We must allow for a full season of growth to occur before any harvesting can take place in our lives. To pluck fruit before it is ready will only leave us with a bitter taste in our mouths. It is nature’s way of teaching us to wait.
I mentioned that Advent is a time of preparation not just for the remembrance of Christ’s First Coming but especially to remember to prepare for his Second Coming. His Second Coming is something that I heard a lot more about back in my days in the Baptist church. Yet it is central to the message of the New Testament, the constant expectation of Christ’s return, as the eucharistic liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer proclaims, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”
The Book of Revelation is apocalyptic, which comes from the Greek for “unveiling” or “disclosure.” It is not unlike our childlike impatience for the unwrapping of Christmas presents. We know there’s something good to come and we simply cannot wait to have it, to clutch it with our own hands, to see it with our own eyes. Another biblical term used to refer to Christ’s Second Coming is the Greek parousia, which literally means “presence.” And perhaps this is what our soul is most impatient for - a felt and known presence of Christ. We yearn for Christ’s reign to make right so many wrongs that trouble us. Untrained in noticing Christ already present, we seek a more clear revelation of Christ’s nearness, one that requires less work on our part, less patience, less focused attention.
But patience is bound up in presence. As the fifth chapter of The Letter of James reminds us:
Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. James 5:7-8
The wisdom in waiting is trusting in God to be at work in our world, working in and through us but also preparing The Way ahead of us. Loving God with all our Mind requires a remembrance that the final weaving together of the loose ends of our reality is best left to the master weaver. We can only do our part. God is an expert at bringing forth beauty from our imperfect efforts.
There is much in my life I would like to see happen right now. Any yet I know I must wait. To push too hard, too soon, before it is the right time, before other things in my life, in others' lives, and in the world around us all have time to come into alignment risks undoing the very things I wish to see happen. It would be like pulling out into the intersection before the light turns green … a wreck. And so I must be patient and work to gain perspective on the actual source of my anxiety knowing each passing moment surely brings me closer to the place God is preparing ahead of me.
Advent is a time of patient preparation not just for the celebration of a Christ who has come but even more importantly for the anticipation of a Christ who is coming. Lighting one new Advent candle a week brings forth a slow but sure illumination. We trust this in our worship. Can we also trust it in the rest of our lives?
What are you impatient for? What do you desire to be resolved or to come to fruition? Where is this anxiety really coming from? The next few weeks are a good time to ponder these things as you draw closer to the nearness of God.
Trust that whatever good thing God has begun, God will see to completion. Trust that whatever puzzle we cannot solve, God knows how it will come together. Trust that whatever presence we cannot perceive, God is yet present and becoming more present with each passing moment.
Closer and closer …
following The Way,
Mind Practice: Passages to Ponder
In addition to the passage above from James, you might also spend some time today or this week reading and re-reading the following words from scripture. How is God speaking to you through them? What message of hope is there here for you to find?
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:18-25
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Romans 12:12
And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Hebrews 9:27-28