We’ve all heard that before. Usually, “virtue” implies that we could benefit from practicing patience. I have always considered myself to be a pretty patient person, that is, up until a few weeks ago. I went to a parent teacher conference for my first grader and sat in delight as her teacher continued to list alll the wonderful attributes about my daughter but then I was a little shocked when she stated, “She could really work on her patience”. I could name a few areas where I thought that she could improve, but I had never considered the fact that the area of patience was one of them.
Have you ever experienced those moments of God speaking to you in the midst of another conversation? In that moment, it was as if God popped the realization into my head that actually, I am incredibly impatient. I left that meeting suddenly aware that something that I had thought about myself was actually not true and that this was a quality I was passing on to my kids. Patience is NOT a virtue that I exercise.
Here, in the North East, There are many indicators that signal the changing of summer into fall. Changing leaves, cool brisk air and cries of outrage from Grandparents everywhere complaining about how early Macy’s is putting out Christmas decorations, “IT’S NOT EVEN OCTOBER!”. Beyond being annoyed at rushing through my favorite season, Autumn, I haven’t really thought much about how this reflects on our inability to wait. Not until we visited an Orthodox church with some new friends who invited us. Not only do Orthodox Christians wait to celebrate until December 25, (That’s right, the day I normally take the tree down) but they traditionally fast in some capacity for 40 days prior. WHAT? This is a major cultural shift from what Americans normally do this time of year. For Christians, Advent is traditionally a time of waiting, of expectation for the birth of a savior.
This information coupled with the recent revelation (my husband would argue that it is only revelation to myself) that I am impatient has me thinking about how my family walks through this season. How do we teach our children and ourselves to wait in a instant gratification world? The very idea of waiting for something feels like a punishment. I did a little research on how to wait well and most of the advice centered around strategies to forget you are waiting. Disengage, distract, imagine you are somewhere else. We don’t value waiting, and we don’t think of it as important. As Christians, we should just expect waiting to be an important part of our lives, after all, Jesus’ story is riddled with waiting. The Jews waited for years for their savior to come, Mary, waited for the birth. The wise men waited as they followed a STAR in the SKY! Jesus’ life itself is full of periods of what see as nothingness. While we hear a few childhood stories, we pick back up with the start of his ministry 18 years later! I wonder what happened in that hidden time? What things did Jesus learn from the “left foot, right foot” pace of everyday life with his family? Do you think it was hard for Jesus to be in that place, asking his Father, “Now? Is this the time?”. Many say that how you handle major hurdles in your life prepares you for what is to come. I would argue that it is what happens in the times of waiting that determines how we will pilot the storms ahead.
Seasons of waiting are a tool that God uses to shape us into who he wants us to be. Formation is not a snap of the fingers sort of thing, it’s a slow process. Its Erosive, like the way solid rock gave way to the persistent flow of the Colorado river, creating the Grand Canyon. Jean-Pierre de Caussade said, “All that happens to me becomes bread to nourish me, soap to cleanse me, fire to purify me, a chisel to carve heavenly features on me.”
While waiting, you do not have to disengage or distract yourself from this season and try to rush into the next. Lean into the place you are at and glean as much from this time as you can. Here are some things to try, let me know how they work.
Stay in the moment.
Instead of keeping your mind focused on what you are waiting for, stay in the moment. Ask God to show you things around you that are beautiful. I like to meditate in lines of worship songs or verses when I'm trying to teach myself to do something. “Face to Face” is a great tune to focus on for this exercise.
Don't wait alone.
Bring your small group in on this process. Consider a spiritual director who can help you walk this out. It's so much better to have to wait when you have company.
Make yourself wait in small doses and be aware of what you are feeling. Stand in a longer line at the grocery store and if you start to feel impatience rising up within you, breath and pray through it. Remember, you can’t always control when you wait, but how you respond is your choice. Learning to respond with patience in the day to day will teach us how to respond when it's a big thing.
Choose to do activities that value the process.
Don’t just run through a fast food joint for dinner, create the space to cook a yummy meal. Turn on some of your favorite music and include some of your favorite people. Plan extra time to drive to work, take a more scenic route or get off the bus a stop early and walk a little farther to take in your world.