The Art of Waiting
[Isa.2:1-5; Rom.13:11-14; Mt.24:37-44]
Waiting is something we all do often, but do we appreciate its benefits? Or do we resent it?
In his book, Oh the Places You’ll Go! Dr Seuss describes the ‘Waiting Place’ as ‘useless’. This is the place where we are all –
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting. [i]
And as we wait, many of us become bored, anxious, impatient, or even angry. So, we try to avoid it as much as we can.
But in her book When the Heart Waits, Sue Monk Kidd says that waiting is not at all useless. ‘For a world that hovers so delicately between beauty and destruction,’ she says, ‘waiting is something we can’t afford to ignore much longer.’
It’s a natural part of life, she says. Indeed, all through the Bible we can see people waiting. Noah, for example, waits for the floodwaters to recede; Jesus waits in the Garden of Gethsemane; and we are all collectively waiting for his return.
Kidd’s point is that waiting is an important part of God’s plan for us.
She recounts the story of a retreat she attended at a Benedictine monastery, where she noticed a certain monk, sitting alone and very still. He had a ski cap pulled down over his ears, and he was enjoying the shade of a tree.
There was such tranquil reverence in his silhouette that she stopped to look at him. He was the picture of waiting. Later, she spoke to him. ‘I saw you today sitting beneath the tree,’ she said, ‘just sitting there so still. How can you wait so patiently in the moment? I can’t seem to get used to the idea of doing nothing.’
Breaking into a grin, he replied: ‘Well, there’s the problem right there, young lady. You’ve bought into the cultural myth that when you’re waiting, you’re doing nothing.’
He placed his hands on her shoulders, looked into her eyes and said, ‘I hope you’ll hear what I’m about to tell you. I hope you’ll hear it all the way down to your toes.
‘When you’re waiting, you’re not doing nothing. You’re doing the most important something there is. You’re allowing your soul to grow up. If you can’t be still and wait, you can’t become what God created you to be.’ [ii]
Waiting, then, is not the useless in-between time we often think it is. We may find it challenging, but that’s only because God is using it to weave blessing, beauty and wisdom into our lives. If we resist these things, we are the ones who miss out.
Today we begin the season of Advent, and Advent is essentially all about waiting – waiting for the coming of Christ into our lives at Christmas. In these four weeks we are all encouraged to take time out to reflect on our lives, to pray and seek the sacraments, and to think about all the suffering in the world around us.
Our hope is that when Jesus does come, he’ll bring with him all the peace, hope, joy and love that we and our world so desperately need.
To nourish and guide us through this time, the Church offers us a rich selection of readings every day. In today’s first reading, Isaiah shares his dream of God’s kingdom, where swords are beaten into ploughshares and spears are turned into pruning-hooks. His vision is of frightful weapons of war being reborn as instruments of nourishment and life.
In troubled times, we are all called to be peacemakers, just like Jesus. These are troubled times, of course, so our challenge is to recognise the weapons we tend to use in our own daily lives. Might this include our impatience, our anger and our harsh tongues? And how might we turn these things into instruments of peace?
In our second reading, St Paul tells us to wake up, because the night is almost over; it will be daylight soon, for God is on his way. And in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus warns us not to be unprepared, as the people were at the time of Noah. It’s time to get ourselves ready.
So, this Advent, let’s reflect on the art of waiting, and recognise that its purpose is to reshape and refine us, and prepare us for what is to follow.
Jesus Christ is coming at Christmas.
Let’s make sure our waiting is fruitful.
[i] Dr Seuss, Oh the Places You’ll Go! http://benavidez5thgrade.weebly.com/uploads/8/6/7/3/86734958/oh-the-places-youll-go-by-dr-seuss.pdf
[ii] Sue Monk Kidd, When the Heart Waits. HarperOne, NY. 2016.