This time of year in the Christian calendar is Advent– that period of expectant waiting for the arrival of the Christ child. Over the years, I can see families from the churches we attended, taking turns lighting the dark blue candle for that Sunday–often choosing one of their older children for the job. That single candle gave a sure and simple light that illuminated a quiet slow path to the manger.
We wait, with the expectant mother of Jesus and the world for our deliverer who’ll come in the most innocent form of a baby. This year our family waited for our second grandson to be born. We were on high alert, watching for the signs, wondering when he would arrive– in the middle of the night or catching us by surprise in the day. We waited, and waited, and finally he arrived.
We’ve all been doing so much waiting during 2020 that it’s hard to now consider the waiting that’s done during this season. Life as we’ve known it has been turned upside down by the pandemic and we’ve been waiting for it to turn over. Now, we have hope as the vaccine is rolling out this week but still many are struggling with illness and waiting for their symptoms to turn around, hospital staff are waiting to be relieved of their worry and exhaustion.
I’ve thought a lot about waiting–about the purpose it has in our lives. I’ve been frustrated by it, but yet I know the Ecclesiastes chapter 3 truth that “to everything there is a season.” There are times we have to wait through the season, and wait for a season that will bring relief. Back in 2013, Mama was in the hospital for most of the summer. During those days, I sat by her bedside waiting for her to get better, waiting for the doctor to reveal tests results, waiting for the nurse to bring her pain med. A week before Mama became ill, I’d pulled Sue Monk Kidd’s book, When The Heart Waits from my shelf–feeling some inner urge to read it again.
I’d first read the book when it was published in the early nineties, and then again in 2006; there must be a theme of me having a hard time learning to wait!
Recently, when I was working on a chapter in my sequel memoir, I used the book as a reference–noting all the margin notes from 2013. I’d heavily underlined this quote:
“We live from peak event to peak event from brightness to brightness, resisting the flat terrain of ordinary time–the in-between time.
Waiting is the in-between time. It calls us to be in this moment, this season, without leaning so far into the future that we tear our roots from the present. When we learn to wait, we experience where we are as what is truly substantial and precious in life.” ( When the Heart Waits, p. 37)
How do we stay in the moment when we want so much to escape and move to better times? I’ve asked that plenty of times over the past year.
I have a painting I put up every Christmas that was done by my Aunt Polly in December of 1954. She’d intended to give it to her mother, my paternal grandmother, for her Christmas gift. But Grandma Rosser died right before that and never received Polly’s gift. Many years later when I saw the painting, I told Polly I loved the way she’d illuminated Mary’s face, the way she’d chosen to paint Mary and Joseph traveling at night. I boldly told her that if she “ever found she didn’t want the painting, I’d like to have it.”
Mama remembered that after Polly passed, and then I received Polly’s gift. Now I look at it and think of the long journey of a pregnant woman on the backside of a donkey. Mary must have wanted to be in a more comfortable spot since she was great with child. How long the trip to Bethlehem must have seemed. I wonder what went on inside of her head as she waited for her baby. Did she ask, “Why me?” or “Why is this happening to me at this time in my life?” Or maybe, “Why Joseph as the father– and not some other man from the village?” Was she a planner and wondering, “Where are we going to spend the night? Are there any hotel rooms available?”
Or was she having contractions and just focusing on getting through each moment, praying to God who’d sent the angel Gabriel to tell her “Do not be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God.” During those moments she would have had to stay inside that prayer and breathe in the spirit of God’s power to make it through. Birthing pains require that kind of focus and absolute reliance on power beyond what you feel you have.
Seasons of waiting are times of birthing. Reading now in When the Heart Waits, Kidd refers to the unknowing of waiting that is so difficult for us.
What has happened to our ability to dwell in unknowing, to live inside a question and coexist with the tensions of uncertainty? Where is our willingness to incubate pain and let it birth something new? What has happened to patient unfolding, to endurance? These things are what form the ground of waiting. And if you look carefully, you’ll see that they’re also the seedbed of creativity and growth–what allows us to do the daring and to break through to newness.” (p. 25)
May we live into this season of waiting and break through to newness so that we may be all that God has created us to be.
Blessings to you in the week ahead. This is the third week of my Memoir giveaway. If you’d like the chance to received a free copy of my book, He Heard My Voice, please email your answer to the following question to firstname.lastname@example.org
How are you learning to be present during your season of waiting? What might God be birthing in you?