One of my morning mantras is: There is no reward for speed.
And if there was a season in which I am learning to live and breathe this, it is now.
It goes without saying that the predominant thread woven into the fabric of 2020 has been one of waiting.
- Waiting for a vaccine.
- Waiting for the end of a pandemic.
- Waiting to touch aging parents again.
- Waiting to attend religious services.
- Waiting to have a funeral.
- Waiting to make plans and travel.
- Waiting for justice.
- Waiting for equality.
- Waiting for the healing of our nation.
Frequently, we think of waiting as a forced inactivity—something that eats away at our time without our permission. Our minds tend to conjure up images like sitting on the highway in rush hour traffic, or standing in a long line at the store, or maybe being placed on hold for an eternity (or close to it). These types of episodes all seem to be so . . . well . . . wasteful and unnecessary.
Yet, if there is a lesson that the pandemic is offering to teach us, it is that waiting may be constructive, an invitation for transformation, an opportunity for change.
Unlike simply biding our time, accepting the invitation for transformation entails a certain level of purposefulness. Such purposefulness may appear in two styles of waiting that help to open us up for the possibility of change while we simultaneously bear our uncomfortableness.
The first style of waiting that lends itself to inviting change is one of contemplation. Similar to intuitive grieving, this waiting is reflective and expressive of feelings. I may ponder about my motives, feelings, and needs perhaps through journaling or by talking with others. Even if I am not practicing contemplative waiting, others may embody this style of waiting for and with me. They may be alongside me by listening, engaging my stories, validating my emotions, or simply sitting with me. Hence, whether it is my own practice or the practice of others who are with me, this mode of waiting is as a non-anxious presence.
An example of a non-anxious presence is portrayed in a touching scene in one of my favorite movies, Lars and the Real Girl. Bianca, Lars’ “girlfriend,” is about to “die,” and members of the community come to the house to be with Lars. If you have not seen the movie, Bianca is a life-size female doll that Lars buys to protect himself from abandonment. His behavior is triggered by a fear that his sister-in-law will die when she gives birth. In the movie, the community comes together to engender healing in Lars by treating Bianca and his relationship with her as genuine.
The scene includes three ladies and Lars sitting in the family room. One lady is crocheting; one is knitting; and one is embroidering. As Lars sits on the sofa, the crocheter hands him a plate of food. As Lars stares at his plate of food, he asks, “Um . . . is there something I should be doing right now?” The knitter responds, “No, dear. You eat.” And the crocheter chimes in, “We came over to sit.” The embroider agrees, “That’s what people do when tragedy strikes.” And the crocheter finishes the thought, “They come over and sit.”
We sit and be with the other . . . waiting.
Besides a contemplative waiting, we also open ourselves to change through action, or instrumental waiting. This style of waiting is illustrated by walking peacefully for justice and equality or delivering groceries to those who are sheltering in place during a pandemic. It may involve making preparations for an upcoming event, such as the impending death of a relative. In this case, family members may make funeral preparations or begin to clean out the dwelling place of the dying relative. I have seen instrumental waiting portrayed during the pandemic in posts on my local Nextdoor app by announcing specific needs of a local family who are currently not working or by inviting others to post what items they have that are available to give to others. These actions invite me to change from being self-absorbed to being supportive of others as I wait.
Despite our awareness of these styles, waiting can continue to be an arduous task. I know.
It can drain us of patience, igniting the fires of anxiety, annoyance, and infuriation, and when this occurs, we find ways to manage our unease. Just consider some of the coping strategies during a pandemic:
- Some panic, filling their carts with hand sanitizer and toilet paper.
- Some are enraged, vocally criticizing any and all who do not agree with them.
- Some divert themselves, turning towards the refrigerator, Netflix, alcohol, or toxic positivity.
- Some slip into denial, moving through life as if nothing has changed.
Thus, if we are to continue in our pursuit for change as we wait, we require an additional ingredient: hope.
Hope provides us with the necessary endurance amidst a marathon of waiting. Hope is like our O2 as we hike at high elevations. If we are to persevere, hope is a necessity . . . like hand sanitizer in a pandemic.
“Hope may be a necessity,” we may say. “But hope is like the supply of toilet paper at Walmart right now . . . my hope is dwindling. How do I keep a hold of it?”
Before we give up, let me say that the maintenance of hope may not be totally dependent on each person’s ability. Nurturing hope is not just an individualistic task, relying on one’s own capacity to suck it up and cling for dear life. If the pandemic has helped us to see anything, I believe it has helped us see how much we rely on others. The absence of relationships in close physical proximity serves as a reminder to us that no one is an island. We need each other. And this is true in regard to hope for we lean upon relationships with others to help nourish it. Consider the running of a marathon and how much competitors depend on the encouragement of those on the sidelines to help them finish the race. Sometimes we simply need others to strengthen our hope by being there with us, such as when Lars’ community pulls together to sit with him.
Waiting, then, calls for hope in order for us to endure over the long haul, and that hope also may involve the support of other human beings to boost it.
As a Christian, the practice of a transformative waiting that is accompanied by hope points to my beliefs about God, and this is particularly evident during this season of Advent.
This year the waiting in a pandemic coalesces with the waiting of Advent. The waiting of Advent and the waiting in a pandemic unite between the beginning and the ending of the year 2020, sorta like peanut butter and jelly merging between two pieces of bread. They are distinct, yet their coming together may enhance our experiences of both.
Advent underscores both intuitive and instrumental waiting, and God’s action, as seen in the First Coming of Jesus, demonstrates this kind of ministry of waiting. God’s embodiment of waiting emerges in Luke’s first chapter when we are told that the Holy Spirit will come upon Mary, and she will become pregnant. While Mary’s pregnancy signifies that she will be waiting to give birth, it also implies that the human-divine One is waiting in Mary’s womb to be born. Here we catch a glimpse of God’s waiting as God enters the regular rhythms of the development of human life, the gestation of a human in utero. One week. Two weeks. Three weeks. One month. Two months. This is God waiting as the human-divine One.
Scott Erickson invites us to inquire about this God “who is willing to wait and grow in the human womb?” What does this act of ministry say of God? I believe one answer is found in the concept of hope.
You see, God’s waiting is not without hope. This human-divine One in Mary’s womb embodies hope. As Michael Gorman comments, 1 Timothy 2:3-6 describes God as humanity’s Savior who “‘desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (v. 4) and who acted missionally so that universal salvation could occur.” God’s longing, which is “God’s hope, . . . is not forced on humans, but it is embodied in action,” in the being of Jesus Christ. Christ, then, is the embodiment of God’s hope. Jesus is the hope that all of creation will be reconciled . . . that all of humanity will experience salvation.
And as the divine-human One waits and grows in the womb, he is not twiddling his thumbs. He is not simply biding his time, like Americans waiting 12-14 hours for a taste of a burger at a new In-N-Out. Instead, as Jesus waits, he is simultaneously reconciling humanity to God. That is, Jesus’ very being is healing humanity. In my speaking of healing, I am focusing on the hypostatic union where in Jesus Christ the divine one is reconciling (healing) humanity to God. These two natures (the human one and the divine one) are in a relationship in Jesus, and through that relationship in the being of Jesus, humanity is being healed. This healing includes all aspects of human life from conception to gestation through all of human development to death. Jesus assumes it all to heal it all, to paraphrase Gregory of Nazianzus.
Jesus waits, and as he waits, he heals.
However, now that the First Advent has come and gone, what of God’s ministry of hopeful waiting? Is it said and done? No, because God’s ministry of hopeful waiting continues with the Second Advent. 2 Peter 3:8-14 speaks of God’s patience (waiting) in that God desires for all to turn to the Lord prior to the Second Coming. But even the Second Coming is not the end. God also hopefully waits for the day when God will be all in all. This hopeful waiting to be all in all is also embodied in Christ Jesus. In Jesus the divine is completely human, or the fullness of God dwells in the Son (Col 1:19). Jesus Christ, then, is God’s embodied of hope for creation’s future, and he is our hope, too.
As God continues a ministry of hopeful waiting that is healing, or maybe we could say transformative, we, too, have an opportunity to participate in that ministry. This is expressed in the words of Kate Bowler, “Advent is a state of being,” and that state of being is in the nature of waiting. As God embodies a healing and hopeful waiting, so we, too, are invited to participate in this ministry of waiting in the power of the Spirit by embodying a similar kind of waiting, one that is hopeful and healing.
 Scott Erickson, Honest Advent: Awakening to the Wonder of God-with-Us Then, Here, and Now (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2020), Kindle Edition, 38.
 Michael Gorman, Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2015), Kindle Edition, 79.
 Gregory of Nazianzus, a 4th century bishop, stated, “What has not been assumed has not been healed.”
 Kate Bowler, “Waiting is Our True State” in The Season of Almost: A 4 Week Advent Devotional (Katebowler.com, 2020), 9.