By Kris Bruun
Of all the responses from God that I might receive in prayer, no word is less welcome than “WAIT.”
During her last illness, I prayed that the life of my mother might be spared; but she died, and was gathered into her new life with the Savior whom she had served faithfully all of her life. Although I grieved her passing, and continue to miss her salty wit and wisdom, the directive to me was clear: give thanks for her gifts, forgive her faults, and fold all of this into my ongoing life. Some would call this a negative answer to my prayer, and in a way, it was, but I appreciated the lack of ambiguity.
How different from my two current major ongoing pleadings! For years (like St. Monica, mother of Augustine), I have been praying that God would bring my son back to a life of faith. The answer has been neither yes nor no – I can only call it WAIT.
For a few years, I have been trying to decide whether to relocate to a different part of the country. I am the only one of my family who lives here, and this location is not even on anyone’s passing-through route. It takes a lot of deliberate energy to come to visit, and mostly, they don’t. At the same time, I live in a comfortable little community with a vibrant little church in which I have been privileged to play a role during my time here. I have tried all of the obvious decision-makers. I have made lists of pros and cons. I have flipped a mental coin and asked myself how I felt about the outcome. I have prayed, “Lord, show me the way.” The only answer I have received so far is WAIT. My personality tends toward strong decision-making, so I am not very happy being told to WAIT.
Yet we have an entire church season – Advent – dedicated to WAITING and reminding us of those who waited. It’s not just about Mary who waited for nine months, as all of us moms have done, to experience the fulfillment of holding Jesus in her arms. It’s about all of the faithful followers, generation after generation, patriarchs and prophets and ordinary folk who lived and died without losing hope in the promised Messiah. Advent reminds us that we, too, are waiting for a coming Messiah, who will this time come in glory, bringing us a new heaven and a new earth.
I know that I am not alone in being uncomfortable with waiting. There are so many ways that we try to skip Advent and jump into the joy of Christmas. Before Halloween, some of the Christmas decorations go up in the retail establishments. Even in church, we can get caught up in the rush to the magical day. I once belonged to a congregation that had their big Christmas celebration on the third Sunday of Advent – so much easier for the choir and musicians to commit to the time, you know. People who showed up on Christmas got the organ and some Christmas carols, period.
But the call of the season of Advent is to WAIT, and to embrace our own seasons of waiting. We are called to recognize that even if we struggle to see what God is doing, something is developing, something is preparing to be born in God’s time. We sing the songs of longing throughout the season:
“Creator of the stars of night, Thy people’s everlasting Light, O Christ, Redeemer, save us all, bend near to hear us when we call!”
We use metaphors of light and sight: O Oriens, Morning Star, come and enlighten us! I think the longing that fills our hearts as we wait is an acceptable element of our prayers.
As we move through the season, we think of those who are hungry, waiting to be filled, and we share our abundance through Christmas baskets. We think of those who have been made homeless through fire and flood and war. We do what we can to alleviate their longing for homes. These are good Advent practices, not only because they are practical expressions of our call to serve others, but because they remind us that waiting takes many forms.
So this Advent Season I’ll be praying, and I invite you to pray with me:
Lord, as we enter your holy season of Advent, help us to embrace your call to WAIT, and to trust that you will bring forth all good in your own time. We ask this in the name of your Son, Jesus, who is the fulfillment of all of our longings. Amen.