Waiting is never easy. Especially this time of year. But it can be a gift, if we allow it.
The schoolyard felt vast, a desolate ocean of concrete, as I sat there, waiting. A five-year-old, I clutched my Cinderella lunch pail to my chest as I saw buses leave, parents pick up their children. And my insides churned. Where was dad?
As he pulled up in that 1950s station wagon, I jumped in the front seat and fretted in sing-song style, “I waited and I waited but you never came.”
Dad told me in later years he raced and rushed from his job so he could get there in time to pick me up after kindergarten. But sometimes, his work delayed him or traffic was heavy — and he was late. And while I waited, alone, I was filled with an overwhelming loneliness and anxiety.
Of course I healed from that experience and as an adult, it became a private joke between dad and me, especially if I was running late for some event with him and he would say, “I waited and I waited ….”
I share this story because it seems we are always a people of waiting. And yet, we often see it as an inconvenience. Let’s face it. Waiting is not popular, especially today. Stuck in heavy traffic, at the airport for a delayed flight, at a doctor’s office, waiting for the cable repairman. You name it, and we wail and bemoan all this “wasted time” when we could have been doing something else.
The truth is, waiting is not lost time, but valuable if we choose to make it so. Waiting can be rich, inviting us to live in the present moment and to trust in the process of life — to surrender our timetable to the agenda of a Higher Power. In other words, when we are forced to wait, we are no longer in control. The Divine is.
But waiting is not all drudgery. It can often be filled with hope. And promise. In the Old Testament, the Israelites waited 40 years in the desert to reach the Promised Land. Mary waited for the birth of the Christ. The Buddha sat under a tree, waiting for enlightenment.
In this way, waiting is not passive — but active. Spiritual writer Henri Nouwen puts it this way:
“Active waiting means to be fully present to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening. A waiting person is a patient person … impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go somewhere else. The moment is empty. But patient people dare to stay where they are. Patient living means to actively live in the present — and wait there.”
Without this period of waiting, whatever wants to be “birthed” cannot be fully formed. Some examples that come to mind are the chrysalis of the butterfly. A child in a mother’s womb. A work of art or book in process. In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek writer Annie Dillard quotes poet Michael Goldman:
“When the muse comes she doesn’t tell you to write. She says, ‘Get up for a minute. I’ve something to show you. Stand here.”
If we were not to “stand here” and wait to see what is being shown us — to cut short any of our waiting time — we thwart whatever wants to take form and shape. Right now, in many Christian traditions, we are in the Advent season, a time designated to wait for the birth of the Christ. And yet, I find it sad and ironic that our society rushes ahead. Hurries to decorate. To play holiday songs on the radio. To buy gifts. In essence, we do not take the time necessary to prepare in stillness and to listen for what waits to be birthed within us.
When we patiently wait, however, we are gifted and graced. One of my favorite authors, Sue Monk Kidd, writes:
“When the time is right, the cocooned soul begins to emerge. Waiting turns golden. Newness unfurls. It is a time of pure unmitigated wonder.”
I have to admit that I’m still not good at waiting. But I’m getting better. I have come to understand that the things of God don’t come suddenly. Often, the Divine is more of a mid-wife than a rescuer, one who patiently guides us through the process to new life.
And yes, like many of you, I wait. For many things. But I also know, as Jungian analyst James Hillman wrote, that “our soul is the patient part of us.” So I try to listen to my soul more often, to sit with it in silence. But this time, unlike the little girl, I know I’m not alone. The Divine is always with me and within me.
With this inner knowing, with this sense of presence, I trust. In stillness. In anticipation. Waiting.