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Waiting and Longing

December 18, 2013

DSC_1014I am doing Advent reading this year, despite being a bit of a hesitant Christmas season participant.  I ordered several books to review for Sunday School curriculum.  We decided this one wouldn’t fit our SS’s needs, but I decided to keep it for myself and use.

I am absolutely loving it.  In the eighteen days I’ve read so far, it’s been entirely on waiting and longing.  Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent by Enuma Okoro was exactly what I’ve needed this year.  I’ve been thinking about longing–isn’t that what Advent is?  Grief and loss are on my mind this month, as I hear of friends who have lost friends that aren’t much older than me.  What Christmas must be like for families who are gathering just after burying their dead or those remembering lost loved ones who died too soon in years past?  The longing and grief appeal to me, in a non-Christmas’y sort of way.

I’ve thought a lot about what I am longing for these days…a new fence in our backyard? replacing the carpet upstairs?  Those aren’t really longings, those are wants and the difference has become more evident to me this year.  Reading Silence reminds me that longing is our heart’s desire.  In Elizabeth and Zechariah’s case, and many other’s lives today, it was a child (John the Baptist).  For others in New Testament times it was freedom from an oppressive government, just like many of those living in the world today.  We all long for something, and sometimes, we may not know what it is.  However, the longing is there, tugging at us, making us unsatisfied with the injustice in our lives, our community, and our world.  We long for a time when death and dying are gone, when that work that has begun in us is carried to completion, and when we live in faith communities where everyone is lifted up, no matter of their race, their gender, their economic status, or their education level.  Even those of us who give thanks in all things long for more, because this is not enough.  It is not enough to lose loved ones too soon, for a brother to grow up without their twin, for children to grow up without their mother or father, or for a husband to grow old without his beloved wife.  That is not what God intended for us.

I am longing this year.  I am faced with some of those parts of the Bible I try to ignore because I just don’t understand them.  Christ’s second coming, the new Jerusalem is what I long for.  I long for wholeness.  I long for community.  I long to not be separated from God’s love for a minute (and I know, when I am separated now, it is fully my responsibility).

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Of course, as things often happen, in Sunday School a couple of weeks ago, we had a lesson on waiting in Advent.  I noticed.  While the reading from Nouwen didn’t necessarily reflect on Elizabeth and Zechariah, like Okoro did, the essence was the same.  What we do in the waiting matters.  Do I become cynical?  Yes, too often.  Do I get impatient and frustrated?  Sometimes that happens too.  Or do I wait patiently, realizing there is as much transformation in the waiting as is in the arrival of what we anticipated.  Okoro writes:

Enduring seasons of seeming silence from God on a particular concern of ours are usually unbearable.  They can, among other things, tempt us to believe that God has forgotten about is.  Instead we hoped onto what we know to be true about God’s character even if we don’t currently experience that truth about God , no matter how deadening and lengthy  the silence…We find our faith strengthened in persisting in the commitments and spiritual disciplines of our faith life, as did Zechariah…It is interesting to note that when  God remembers Zechariah and sends the angel Gabriel to share the good news, Zechariah is where he should be.  The angel does not approach Zechariah while he drowns his sorrows with table wine or complains to his neighbors. Rather, Gabriel reveals himself while Zechariah is doing what he is supposed to be doing.  Our responsibilities and commitments do not stop while lament, hope, pray, and wait.  Who knows how  God will meet us when we least expect it in the very place we are meant to be?

This year, my Advent waiting and longing isn’t just for Christmas day to arrive and our packages to be ripped into.  Instead, I look to my own John, also known as the Great Anticipator.  As soon as Thanksgiving passed, he started waking up before 6 am every single morning.  I asked him, on December 1, why he was getting up so early.  He was just too excited about Christmas he said.  Life went on for John, he went to school, did piano lessons, went to swim practice, played with toys, went to a birthday party, played the Novinger version of football with his brothers and so forth.  He did those everyday things he was supposed to be doing.  He knows Christmas is coming and he can barely contain himself.  Yet, he is waiting.

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A few nights ago, John arrived in our room yet again in the middle of the night with the statement, “I had a bad dream.”  He crawled in bed and in the morning when we woke up, I asked him what his dream was.  “I was forgotten,” he said.  This is an ongoing thing for John.  Whenever a big trip is going to happen, he has restless sleep because he worries about being forgotten (and to answer any questions, no, he hasn’t seen Home Alone, nor will he, ever, and we’ve never forgotten him).   We worked through a plan to help reassure him there was no way he could be forgotten and he’s slept great since.

While it is a bit of stretch, it is not terribly different than the waiting and longing I have been experiencing this Advent.  I want so bad for justice to roll down from the mountains and for tears to be no more.  I can’t bring it about.  However, like John, I can keep doing what I am supposed to be doing everyday.  I can donate money for the education of girls around the world.  I can give the gift of chicks through Heifer International.  I don’t have to give great sums of money, just a bit at a time.  I can contribute money to elderly live in low income housing to help buy gift cards to grocery stores.  I can treat my family with love, patience, kindness, and compassion, even when it’s hard.  I can take the time to talk to people and give my full energy to the tasks I am doing instead of thinking of what I can do next.  Most importantly, I can do this all year round, not just at Christmastime when our inboxes are inundated with opportunities to give.

I can also pray.  I can read take the time to look up the Bible readings that go with my daily readings in Silence. I can pray for those who mourn this year.  I can pray for our world.

I will do what I am supposed to be doing so when my waiting and longing are complete, I am where I am supposed to be when God shows up.

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