“Come, thou long expected Jesus….” These words of a favorite hymn sum up the season of Advent well. Indeed, the savior was VERY long awaited, was He not? For hundreds of years, the Jews had looked for Messiah. There was nothing they could do to hasten His coming but watch and wait and hope and pray (if they were faithful) or hurry along their way and forget (if they were not).
How much of the Christian life is made up of this waiting? Sometimes we are waiting upon the transformation of ourselves or our spouse. Sometimes we are waiting upon the transformation of a parent or a child. Sometimes we are waiting upon a change of health or job circumstances.
Lately, I’ve been reading the book Patience: How We Wait Upon the World by David Baily Harned. Although I’m not finished, I have already been challenged in my thinking. As Harned notes, we live in an age that values activity over passivity, impatience over patience. If you are at all like me, you have been irritated by a fast food meal that takes longer than five minutes to arrive in your car or by a series of traffic lights that refuse to turn green or even by a small child who seemingly takes forever to stop a favorite activity, find shoes, and head out of the house.
Perhaps you have been irritated by a student in your home who just doesn’t get algebra or who doesn’t like to read or doesn’t want to please you. Let’s be honest. We have all had homeschooling fantasies in which our children sat at our feet, soaking in our every word. Or we’ve had dreams in which they passionately pursued every task or book that we laid before them. When reality comes, it is frightening, and so we fight against it, thinking that we can force our vision upon our families, and yea, upon the whole world.
And so, we have forgotten how to wait…upon ourselves, upon others, upon the Lord.
Perhaps our lack of patience betrays a faulty understanding of God’s plan for the world. As Harned notes, “If life is dialogue, mutuality, and responsiveness, then patience is at its center. If life is domination of dependents and subordinates, of all who are weaker or poorer, then patience is nonsense—except, of course, for the losers in the war of all against all” (21). We live in a culture that is saturated in the cult of the self-made person. Live for yourself. Pursue your dreams. Get all that your heart desires. Even television shows that are written for children play this tune.
If we pause in our endless rounds of activity to reflect, we will recognize this self-centered view of life as not only foolish but impossible. If we are a family, we must wait upon our spouses, our children, and our parents. It is not I who determine the course of our family. We all shape this journey.
And so, in the Christian life, there must be give and take, dialogue, prayer, and waiting.
How could husband and wife or parent and child live in mutuality and trust where patience does not afford time and opportunity for forgiveness and reconciliation? How can one learn to risk and dare and dream, if there has been no patience within the family to establish a realm of basic trust where a child can afford to make mistakes without facing ridicule or harm? How shall we deal with the aged, the frail and infirm whose agility and memory have terribly declined, if we have not cultivated the habits of patience and caring? (16-17)
This patience in waiting is the only way in which we can live in our families and in our communities. We must watch and pray over the teenager who is critical of others or who lacks confidence. We must watch and pray and wait with the child who is frustrated and confused. We must watch and pray and wait with the friend who is struggling. We must allow ourselves to be shaped by others so that, like Christ, we may live for others.
Consider the generations who waited upon God’s promise of a Savior. Over and over, He gave glimpses of the plan through the patriarchs, through the prophecies. And yet, still He did not come.
And then, He came in the most unexpected way, being born in a stable to a poor, young couple. And then He grew, waiting upon the appointed time for His public ministry to begin. Then, He graciously waited upon His disciples, patiently explaining and teaching, as they struggled to see the truth. And finally, He gave himself up to suffering and death on the cross so that we might be reconciled to Him.
May God grant us patience to teach and to listen, to watch and to wait, to expect and to accept His miracles. May He show His mercy to us all.