“The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part”
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
The Waiting lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
Where is God calling us? What will we do? Where will we go next? Who will we be…? There are times when these questions lie fallow, dormant, drowned out by other questions, issues, and concerns. The work of daily life, serving in the small things, can be enough. Sometimes we are so focused on what is right in front of us that we don’t have the energy, time, or inclination to raise our eyes towards the distant horizon. But there are times, in our own lives, in the lives of communities, when we step back from the ordinary, when our attention is drawn towards that horizon, when we lift our heads, when what once seemed far away and distant begins to come into focus and seems tantalizingly near… Those moments fill us with anticipation; with excitement and energy, calling us to take those final steps and arrive in the moment where what had once been just a possibility finally becomes the new reality. So why is it that those moments of expectation, of anticipation, latent with such promise, are also the moments that seem to drag on forever?
We don’t like to wait. That is probably wired into us, one of the many evolutionary adaptations that keep us moving forward, growing, evolving to better manage a constantly changing context and environment. But we have also been trained to be impatient. Is your connection too slow? Does your phone take more than a few seconds to download that life changing captioned photo from Facebook? Don’t have the time to select the food that you will eat? Send us your order and we will select all the locally grown fresh “slow” food you need and deliver it to you! Suffering from a lack of vision? We can make your new glasses in under an hour… So why wait? You don’t have time for that! There is no time to be on the road. You deserve to have arrived long ago…
Why wait? We have been talking about this for so long… It seems like forever… Can’t we just make some decisions, take the last few steps, move this process along, announce that we are crossing the finish line and be done with it? We are ready to move on.
The rush to completion, to fulfillment, to gratification can feel powerful; we are moving, active, in charge… But when all that we can see is the end, we are in great danger of missing the delights that await us on the way.
There are traditions that would tell us that nothing matters but the end, that the path we travel to achieve that goal is irrelevant, a distraction, a distortion of the truth that we seek. Ours is a tradition that looks to the future, that leans into the goal, while at the same time recognizing, honoring, and celebrating the path that we walk as formative, beautiful, and as an expression of our hope and faith in the prize that awaits all of us just beyond the horizon. So while our culture would teach us that we have to keep moving as fast as we can, that we need to get there faster, find it right away, and do everything we can to shorten the process, the journey, our tradition teaches us, trains us to be patient, to savor the way that will lead us to the arrival for which we hope in faith. Advent is the time of year when we practice that waiting.
In one of my favorite carols we sing, “The world in solemn stillness waits to hear the angels sing” (It came upon a midnight clear H 89). Waiting in solemn stillness, in expectation, in wonder at the joy that we know is coming… Longing to hear the angels when they sing. We wait with bated breath afraid that any movement might drown out the first notes of that heavenly melody, somehow knowing that our waiting will only heighten our joy when that first chord sounds.
In this season we will gather in a church where the busyness of electric lights will be moderated by the slow, warm light of candles. We will pause a little longer to savor the words we are hearing. Our singing will reflect a different rhythm and pace of life. We will practice waiting, sheltered from the noise and pace of a culture that seems bent on arriving early. Perhaps in this practice we will find the courage, the patience, and the wisdom to allow God’s call to us to unfold in God’s own time, each card laid before us in turn, taking it on faith, taking it to the heart, even though waiting is the hardest part.