Eight months stretched between the day we got engaged and the day we said, "I do." I thought it would never end. Thankfully, I had filled every inch of my calendar to help pass the time. I was working on the student ministries staff in a large church, teaching seven dance classes per week, and going to school full-time. For the two months prior to our wedding, each weekend had a different event planned, including a recital for my dance students just nine days before I walked down the aisle. Unscheduled minutes were packed with the cascade of decisions and conversations that precede marriage. During that last week, I woke up and saw how little time I had reserved to prepare for and enjoy the moments leading up to our wedding; and my heart began to grieve those missed months.
As the season of advent approaches, the memory of my pre-wedding experience drives me to not let history repeat itself. Despite our best intentions to be present and engage in the holiness of the season, we cannot escape the reality of Christmas concerts, holiday office parties, and maddening Black Friday traffic. There will be gift exchanges, greeting cards, and family newsletters, and if you happen to work in a church—welcome to your busiest season of the year. Without a focused plan, we could easily find ourselves at a Christmas Eve service, turning our minds to the hope and redemption brought into world through Christ's birth, and wishing we had positioned our hearts for this place weeks ago.
At the time Christ was born, the world had been longing for a Messiah for centuries. The desperate ache of their wait was as real and painful as anything we might experience today. In this way, the anticipation of advent also brings to mind difficult seasons of waiting, when the outcome is less certain and the days are especially long. Living in the grind of those anxious times, hoping for an answer, healing, provision, change . . . it can choke the life out from under us. What we do during the wait matters, perhaps even more than the final outcome. It is an irreplaceable piece of the story, preparing us for what is to come and giving us new perspective moving forward.
Sara Groves speaks to this heavy anticipation and longing in her song "Painting Pictures of Egypt":
If it comes too quick, I may not recognize it.
If it comes too quick, I may not appreciate it.
Is that the reason for all this time in sand?
We have to ask the question, why are we waiting? If God's heart toward us is good, why are our cries for change met with continued stillness? God is purposeful in all he does, including the days when it seems he is doing nothing at all. "The Lord isn't really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent" (2 Peter 3:9). He loves us deeply; he will not taunt us with hope and then deny us his promises. We must choose to intentionally position our hearts to receive and respond to the messages he has for us in the quiet, or we risk wasting the wait and missing the opportunities that it held.
Here are three ways we can embrace seasons of waiting during Advent and beyond:
Slow Down: There is not much we can do about the speed with which the rest of the world is traveling. The holidays seem to have a way of turning up the pace even more and the whole thing ends as soon as it begins. If we cannot add minutes to the day, we will have to find them elsewhere. Get up 20 minutes earlier and begin the morning by sitting in silence, reading, praying, or taking a walk. Eat lunch outside. Drive with the radio off and windows down. Unplug the TV for a few days. Each step toward these quiet places pulls us out of the noise, and into the moment.
Let Go: Take stock of your commitments. Have you said "yes" when you should have said "no"? Perhaps one of the greatest ways we can waste the wait is by ignoring it all together through an overcommitted schedule. During Advent, we can easily fill our weeks, leaving no room for anticipation. In more difficult seasons, we may saturate the time with busyness in an effort to avoid the thoughts, conversations, and decisions that await us in stillness. What could you let go of in order to take hold of the moments that are life-giving?
Lean In:Elisabeth Elliot wrote, "The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances." We often believe that if our circumstances were different, we would feel better. If we had more money, clearer answers, a better job, a relationship, or anything else we feel is missing, peace would surely follow. When we find ourselves lost in an open sea of waiting, uncertain of the outcome, we pray for God to bring us out of it. While those prayers may be good, perhaps it is even better to ask that we be changed first. As you slow down for Advent, what would it look like to lean in toward God and open yourself up to be transformed? If you find yourself longing to see God move and bring about new things, what would it look like to surrender with complete trust and a willingness to change regardless of whether or not your circumstances change? If you press in toward him, he will certainly meet you in that place and peace will undoubtedly follow.
I am always struck Christmas morning by how quickly another year has passed. Winter feels endless, but once spring rolls around, the months move quickly, and suddenly, autumn is upon us. The excitement of the holidays fills our homes as we make plans with family, pull out baking recipes, and string up Christmas lights. It takes little effort to rush through the weeks and miss the moments of quiet anticipation that prepare us for the glory of Christmas, as we can easily be distracted by the many wonderful aspects of the season.
Similarly, we can become distracted by the painful aspects of other seasons of waiting. In the years before Christ was born, many lost stopped listening to the voice of God. As a result of this condition of their hearts, they did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah when he came. We are no different today. In difficult months or years of waiting, we must put effort toward surrendering to the stillness and listening for his voice in the midst of anxiety and uncertainty. We will either waste the longing or intentionally embrace it, allowing our hearts to be changed by the process. We have not been forgotten or left to work it out on our own. God is standing in the midst of our wait; all we need to do is meet him there.
Cara Joyner is a writer living in Virginia. Her days are spent being married to her best friend, chasing around a toddler, nursing an infant, starting cups of coffee that she usually doesn't have time to finish, and thinking about how much she needs to clean her house. Connect on her website and on Twitter @ThisIs_Cara.