Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Waiting Game

For those of you in the know (or not in the know, or just stuck reading this blog hoping for something witty), today marks the beginning of the season of Advent in the Christian Calendar.  Although as a church season it is not as penitential as Lent, Advent is nonetheless a more subdued season.  There are no Advent marching bands, hallelujahs! processions or widespread celebrating.  Advent can be summed up in one non-celebratory word:  Advent is a season of waiting.

In one respect, Lent (the most penitential ("bummer-rific") season of them all) is also a season of waiting.  The difference, however is vast.  It seems we spend Lent just waiting for it to be over.  And although Easter awaits at the end of Lent, it often seems the real victory of waiting-out Lent is simply surviving the 40-day countdown of self sacrifice.  We don't give up anything during Advent, but it's a waiting game just the same. 

The whole concept of waiting isn't unique to the Christian tradition.  It seems every religion has a component of "waiting" in it.  And if you don't subscribe to any particular religion, the same concept of waiting could be applied to generation, to community, to gender, or what have you.  Everybody is waiting for something: an end to poverty, equal rights, the next Harry Potter movie, Godot.  Waiting is universal.

And you know what?  We stink at waiting.  In fact, we are so bad at waiting, that we have formed our very existence around NOT waiting.  We have fast food, lightning deals and instant credit.  We hate waiting so much that we have caller ID so we can know before we answer who is on the phone and then end the call before they even say hello.  Waiting is not necessary.  If you want to see horribly unhappy people, spend some time in the one place where waiting is required:  The Waiting Room.  Not only is waiting no longer a part of our social and cultural makeup, to have to wait for something is now almost a dirty word, and is certainly the opposite of progress, invention and the great American way.

One has to try really, really, really hard to put on the brakes and just wait.  Once we hit Advent we know the payoff of Christmas is coming, and with the secular so intertwined with the sacred, it's hard to honor the idea of waiting when faced with blowup Santas, animatronic penguins and miles of outdoor lights strung on rooftops, trees, bushes, and any other surface within reach.  Retail outlets don't make it any easier.  Christmas starts sneaking in in mid-October (totally bypassing Thanksgiving) and is in full bloom come November 1st.  Just try to avoid it.

I think a main component of being a successful "waiter" -- that is, one who "waits" as opposed to one who brings you more dinner rolls -- is accepting life in the present, even when you know there is something better coming.  Acceptance, however, isn't static or complacent.  It can, however, be a challenge to learn to live and find the worth in the right now instead of marginalizing or skipping it for the next bigger and better event.

Nowadays, it's harder to wait during Advent because we've read this story before and the next chapter is one of our favorites.  But oftentimes when we are faced with something new or frightening or unsure, the last thing we want to be is in a hurry.  We prefer all the time we can get to think, process, and formulate meticulous (not to mention wildly successful) plans for whatever comes next.

Maybe instead of bypassing Advent -- these four weeks leading up to Christmas -- we should embrace the waiting.  Take the time to think about where you are in life.  Accept your present existence.  Find it's goodness and worth.  And while you process and formulate meticulous (not to mention wildly successful) plans for what we already know comes next, remember that what comes next isn't the end of the story.  Not even Christmas is static or complacent.  The story continues, even after December 25th.

Just wait and see.

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