We live in a time of instant mashed potatoes and overnight shipping. No longer do I have to go with our family to Blockbuster to pick a movie, which took United Nations negotiation skills. We can now click a remote and access almost any movie within minutes.
Faster appeals to me, as it does for many in Western culture. Companies perceive our felt needs and provide services. We affirm their advertising in our consumption. We can scan a barcode on our phone to pay for goods without having to wait for a woman to peruse her purse looking for her checkbook or look into the eyes of a cashier or thank the person bagging our groceries.
I wonder though as we exchange the slow pace of waiting for fast speed, what toll it takes on us, our shared humanity, our relationship with God? I can order my holiday peppermint mocha on an app and pick it up without talking to anyone. But is this better for me? For the barista working who may need a friendly smile, a kind greeting? Are we created to be so detached from one another?
I used to hate to wait. For me it was a mix of fidgeting anxiety that grew in waiting L-O-N-G minutes and believing a narrative that waiting is a waste of time. It was not productive. I was wasteful. It became a source of shame because I was not doing enough or making enough or cleaning enough or thinking fast enough. All are true by the world’s standards.
Perhaps we see waiting as an aggravation because it reminds us we are not in control.
We embody many things and one is limitations. We can’t make the pharmacist work quicker or for our rehab to go faster. We don’t have time to read everything so some listen to podcasts and audible books at a faster speed. Is this a solution or a symptom of a cultural disease?
I’ve begun to see waiting as an act of resistance, a time of formation, even if I can’t name it. I glean the wisdom of Eugene Peterson who clarified, “Waiting doesn’t diminish us, any more than it does a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting.” Yes, even in the crowded lines at Walmart, if I pay attention to those around me as I wait on other human beings, well, being human.
Maybe instead of pulling out my phone, I should notice the delight in the toddler’s face in the cart in front of me or pray for the single parent juggling children, groceries, and all the other things on his or her plate. Maybe we can practice our faith in our waiting. Let an elderly person go in front of us and “outdo one another in showing honor.”
Four years ago my Pentateuch class compelled me to practice a weekly Sabbath. My husband and I realized we were really, really bad at it. Maybe it takes years to unlearn the narrative we bought about doing more. On Friday we eat before sundown and fast until Saturday at sundown-ish. We still stumble through this time, not knowing what to do. At first, it was pleasant but the next morning we wondered, Now what?
We try to adopt a time of rest, examine what is life-giving. We take care of recycling, and dig weeds in our yard. Since we live in west Texas, this is an ongoing activity. I am convinced 90% of what we grow are weeds. But I also tend the 10% of flowers and herbs. We hung feeders to watch the birds.
Sabbath time, I am slowly learning, is not a time of catching up on work though we succumb to this often. It’s not about adding things to our set apart time. Meister Eckhart said that God is not found in the addition of things, but by subtraction. This resonates with my experience of Sabbath and our tendency to fill it with a yes to Netflix, internet shopping, social media scrolling, online games, and other anxiety-ridden activity.
I can’t “Be still and know that I am God” when I don’t stop and respond to the ongoing invitation, “Come, all you who are weary and hurting, I will give you nourishing rest.”
What I’ve learned about waiting is that I need to stop and ask, Do I want the immediate or the formational? The immediate isn’t always bad, but it’s not always best.
Waiting can be a catalyst for cruciform shaping us into the image of Christ. Want to be like Jesus? Well, he waited. He waited to start his ministry, he waited for “the time” to come, he waited for his disciples to understand his identity and restorative purpose. He waited as he refuted deceit in the wilderness where he was tempted to say yes to doing things his own way, to ruling with imperial power. “You can have it all, Jesus if you bow to me”, hissed the accuser and deceiver.
He waited and said no to hurrying on his way to the home of Jairus, where the leader’s only daughter was dying. He first had to restore the person known as the hemorrhaging woman to “daughter”. He waited to go to Lazarus, his gravely ill friend. Though Lazarus died, he was also resurrected. Did this not enlarge their vision of the identity of Jesus and the power of God?
Jesus didn’t live under the tyranny of the urgent. He waited in prayer and prayed in the waiting. He waited in a garden, wanting a cup to pass. He waited through his suffering, writhing in pain, on a cross with arms stretched out wide.
When we wait, we unfurl our hands with tight-fisted demands and curl our fingers around the hand of God.
Imagine God putting seeds in our hands. What if, in our hunger, impatience, in the world that shouts “Now!”, that we devour what God wanted to grow in us, with us, for us, for our community? We would miss the life, beauty, goodness, peace, gentleness and joy that was to come for a short-term gain, like easing hunger pains with stew in exchange for a birthright.
In a world of rushing and crushing pace, waiting is a subversive act where we say no to screaming immediacy. We are not deprived of opportunities when we abide with God. It shapes our character. It provides immunity from self-sufficiency, pride, and self-indulgent timelines. We release our right now striving. Doesn’t that sound like an inviting meal, even if it comes with a side dish of discomfort?
This Advent let us become wise in the waiting by practicing our faith. Let us remember ancient people praying for God to return as promised after hundreds of years of silence. May we watch for how God continues to dwell with us so we can expand our kingdom vision and imagination as people of good news bearing tidings of great joy. May we watch for Jesus to come again, knowing the love and the light will permeate every unjust system in this dark world.