Waiting for God
Sister Assunta DMJ & her talk on Advent – presented to the Addiscombe, Surrey group members
Soon we will start Advent, the liturgical time of waiting for the coming of Christ. In the first part of Advent the final coming of Christ at the end of time is stressed. The second part is centred on the coming of Christ in the flesh in the Incarnation and His birth at Bethlehem. In between is His daily coming to us in Word and Sacrament and every day circumstances, expressions of His will and love for us.
The Advent season is all about waiting. During Advent, we’re reminded of all those centuries when God’s people awaited the fulfilment of God’s promises, the years of uncertainty, the time of doubt. This side of Christmas, it’s easy to think that this season is all about arrival, the birth of Jesus. And that’s partly true. The story does find its fitting climax in the coming of the Messiah. But let’s not forget the waiting that preceded Christ’s advent, the waiting that marked the time before Christmas, the waiting that God forced his people to endure.
Waiting feels like time wasted. And who can afford to waste time these days? We have too much to do. Every second counts. Yet waiting is a normal part of our lives. It gives us time to assimilate, to reflect, to grow.
A woman waits 9 months for her child to be born. A famer waits for the seed to sprout and grow and give a harvest. A child has to wait till it becomes an adult. Time always seems long to the child who is waiting – for Christmas, for next summer, for becoming a grownup.
Today’s culture does not want to wait.
We have to have everything immediately. But as soon as we have it we do not appreciate it, throw it away and want something else. The longer we have to wait for something, the better we appreciate the gift when we receive it. God who knows how He made us wants us to wait. This is essential for the growth of our relationship with Him
Be patient, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. Think of a farmer; how patiently he waits for the precious fruit of the ground until it has had the autumn rains and the spring rains! You too have to be patient. Do not lose heart, because the Lord’s coming will be soon. (James 5, 7-9)
St. John Chrysostom put it this way: “It cannot be that a man should enjoy the benefit of grace except he watch.” Somehow, intrinsically bound in the lives of the great saints, is the idea that waiting for the Lord is a requirement of the Christian life. God often uses waiting as a crucible in which to refine our character. Perhaps the prophet Isaiah realized this when he wrote, They that wait upon the lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Is. 40:31)
Faithful waiting on God makes us stronger, not weaker
Waiting is also a sign of humility. Remember that, long ago, persons of lesser rank who served nobility and royalty were said to “wait upon” them. In a similar way, they were said to “attend” their lords and rulers. Even today, the French word for “wait” is “attend.” Maybe there is something to learn here. Maybe we should think of waiting on God less as passively sitting around until something happens and more as actively attending — listening carefully for God’s voice and watching intently for evidence of His moving in our lives and in the world around us.
When waiting for God you feel as if you’re doing nothing, but you’re actually doing something very important. In fact, this waiting — this attending to God — may be the most important spiritual work you could possibly do. While you are waiting faithfully on God, you are also allowing your hope to grow up. And if you can’t be still and wait and hope — even when you have no reason to hope — you can’t become the person God created when He thought you into existence.
Spiritual transformation doesn’t take place when we get what we want. It takes place while we’re waiting. It is forged in us while we’re waiting, hoping, and trusting, even though we have yet to receive what we long for. Spiritual transformation happens in the waiting room.
Waiting also helps us learn the vital lesson that just because a dream is delayed doesn’t mean it is denied. When we continue to hope patiently and place our trust in God and in His schedule — not ours — we begin to gain the type of long-range perspective that allows us to have peaceful souls, even when the storms of life are raging about us. With God, we can wait out the storm and see the sun breaking through the clouds. When we trust in Him, we will eventually see the rainbow and the rebirth of our hopes and dreams.
Think of a time in your life when you were “in the waiting room.” What have you learned since that experience? Maybe you’re in the waiting room right now. I’ve been there many times. One season of waiting for the Lord to bring relief and healing lasted more than fifteen years. I thought I was going to die from waiting and I began to doubt that God even remembered me anymore. But, He did. He intervened and rescued me and I’ll never be the same again. What about you? In your waiting room, are you believing that He is and will continue to do mighty things in your life? This won’t last forever. Even if it feels like it right now. Laurie McClure,
Jesus and Waiting As we wait, we can take great comfort in the knowledge that God doesn’t ask us to do anything He hasn’t already done. God has, in fact, field-tested waiting and given us the perfect example to follow in Jesus Christ.
Henri Nouwen, in A Spirituality of Waiting, makes this point beautifully. He tells the story of being called to the bedside of a friend who had spent his life as a social activist, busily involved with caring for others. But now, this human dynamo was confined to a sickbed by the cancer ravaging his body. He confessed to Nouwen that he had no way to even think about his life. His entire self-identity had always been framed by doing, by actively working on behalf of others. How, he wanted to know, could he understand his present circumstances in a way that didn’t lead to despair?
wisely answered this anguished question by pointing his friend to the last days of Jesus’ life — the period Christians often refer to as Christ’s Passion. Up until this point in His life, Jesus’ ministry had consisted largely of doing: healing, teaching, confronting, comforting, and actively modeling the God-life for all those He met. But when He was arrested by the Temple police, He was forced into a time of waiting. Nouwen wrote:
The central word in the story of Jesus’ arrest is one I never thought much about. It is “to be handed over.”… Some translations say that Jesus was “betrayed,” but the Greek says He was “handed over.” Judas handed Jesus over (see Mark 14:10). The High priest hands Him over to Pilate, Pilate hands Him over to the soldiers to be scourged and crucified. Jesus is tossed like a ball from hand to hand…But the remarkable thing is that the same word is used not only for Judas but also for God. God did not spare Jesus, but handed Him over to benefit us all (see Romans 8:32)…
Immediately after Jesus is handed over, He becomes the one to whom things are being done. He’s being arrested; He’s being led to the high priest; He’s being taken before Pilate; He’s being crowned with thorns; He’s being nailed on a cross. Things are being done to Him over which He has no control…
Jesus does not fulfil His vocation in action only but also in passion. He doesn’t just fulfil His vocation by doing the things the Father sent Him to do, but also by letting things be done to Him that the Father allows to be done to Him… In a way, His agony is not simply the agony of approaching death. It is also the agony of having to wait.
In other words, even Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, had to endure waiting in order to fulfil His greatest purpose. In the same way, as we wait in faith upon God, we become more like Christ in His perfect obedience, His perfect sacrifice.
Waiting and Life
God has done mighty things in your life and He will continue to do them if you trust Him. Remember that faithful waiting — attending — involves much more than passively sticking your hands up in the air until God rains blessings down into your palms. Faithful waiting involves actively seeking contentment, even amid less-than-optimal circumstances.
Can you listen for God’s guidance, even when things aren’t going your way? Can you proactively trust Him, even when you aren’t seeing the evidence of the victory you long for?
I encourage you to keep doing the next right thing, taking the steps you know to take, without getting frustrated because you aren’t yet where you want to be. Act on the belief that God has a plan and that He is bringing it to completion in your life. Commit to being ready for that completion to occur, even if you can’t see it coming.
In every life, there are times of great forward motion, and there are times of waiting. Just as Christ, after acting so vigorously for much of His ministry, had to endure the agonizing wait of the Passion, so we must recognize and conform ourselves to the holy rhythm of waiting on God’s timing. And who knows? It could be that you are only three days away from the resurrection.
Positive effects of waiting
Maybe a little waiting is a good thing. Here are five things that I think we can get from waiting. They probably won’t help much the next time that you’re stuck in a traffic jam on your way to an important event, but I still think they’re worth reflecting on.
1. WAITING REMINDS US THAT WE ARE NOT THE CENTRE OF THE UNIVERSE.
It’s so easy to get caught up in our own plans, convinced that everything we do is absolutely, crucially important. That’s part of what makes waiting so frustrating, and so valuable. Being forced to wait gives us the opportunity to remember that other people have plans and priorities as well. We are not the focal point of the universe. That doesn’t make our plans unimportant, but it does put them in perspective.
2. WAITING REMINDS US THAT GOD IS IN CONTROL.
At the very least, waiting forces us to realize that we are not in control. And that can be a valuable opportunity to reflect on who is.
3. WAITING REMINDS US THAT LIFE IS A GIFT.
Forced to sit at a red light for several precious minutes, I have a choice. I can choose to grumble and gripe about the loss of my precious time, or I can remember that those very minutes were a gift God gave me so that I might have the opportunity to live for his glory. Sure, this wasn’t how I’d planned to use them. But that doesn’t change the gift.
4. WAITING REMINDS US THAT THE PRESENT MATTERS.
Sometimes I think waiting frustrates us because we’re too future-oriented, always focused on what comes next. But what about now? Next is in God’s hands. Now is what we have. Done well, being forced to wait can be like watching a particularly spectacular movie scene in slow motion. You know the movie will continue playing at regular speed soon, but for now you’re just enjoying what’s on the screen.
5. WAITING REMINDS US THAT THE FUTURE IS BIGGER THAN WE THINK.
Sometimes I think waiting frustrates us because we’re not future-oriented enough. We try not to think about it much, but I think we all have a sense of our own mortality, and it seeps out when we’re forced to wait. We have a finite amount of time, why waste any of it waiting for things to happen? But, of course, our time isn’t really finite. We’re destined for eternity. That doesn’t mean we can get complacent with the time we have now, but waiting can remind us that this life is part of something much larger. In the light of eternity, is a two-minute wait at the grocery shop really that onerous?
I think the advent season is a great opportunity to think differently about time. God made his people wait for centuries before he fulfilled his promises to them in sending the Messiah. And we’ve waited many more centuries since for the final fulfilment of God’s redemptive promises in the second advent of Messiah and the full realization of His Kingdom.
Why all the waiting?
I can’t answer that question for sure. At the very least, though, the waiting reminds us that this is God’s story, his plan, and his promises. He is in control, and He will take this story wherever He pleases. And it reminds us, slaps us in the face at times, that we’re not the centre of the story. It’s not about us, and things don’t always (often!) go the way we’d like. Finally, all the waiting helps us think differently about both the present and the future: valuing the present as a gift, cherishing the future as our ultimate hope.
Will that change the way you feel as you burn through forty-five minutes waiting for the doctor to call you in for your appointment? I don’t know. It might, or it might not. But maybe it will give you the chance to view that time differently.