The waiting, as they say, is the hardest part. We are no longer a people accustomed to waiting. In a world of Instacart, Instagram, and same-day delivery, we crave immediacy. We have lost our appetite for waiting, and with it, our facility for waiting well.
But waiting is an integral part of a life of faith. The well-known definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1 states it plainly, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” To live by faith requires us to get comfortable with waiting.
God’s people have a long history of knowing the weight of waiting. Waiting long months for flood waters to recede. Waiting for babies to fill long-empty wombs. Waiting as one generation dissolves into the next before the people can enter their promised land. Waiting for extended years of captivity in Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon to end. Waiting for the coming Messiah. Waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Waiting for the return of our King.
We too live in the waiting place—that liminal space between the already and the not-yet. But how well do we live in this in-between? If we quiet ourselves long enough, we can hear our heart’s faint cry, “Lord, teach me to wait in faith!”
Advent offers us the grace of four weeks to focus our attention on waiting. Advent, from the Latin adventus, means “coming,” and reminds us we are awaiting the coming of our savior-king. These four weeks create space for us to await with anticipation and expectation the coming of our Lord, and provide a tangible opportunity to sit with Jesus with our deepest longings. Practiced well, this season helps us learn how to wait with God in faith.
The problem is, we don’t wait well. How often do we fill the waiting rooms of our life with digital noise, quick phone calls, or addictive scrolling—ticking one more thing off our already jam-packed to-do lists? Viewing waiting as a waste of our precious time, we have lost the ability to be still as we wait.
This is not the kind of waiting into which God invites us. Waiting with God requires that we learn to be still.
The Advent narrative in the Gospel of Luke draws our attention to the figures of Zacharias and Elizabeth. A righteous priest living in service to the Lord, Zacharias is struck mute during the nine months waiting for his wife Elizabeth to be delivered of their son, John. What a gift to this righteous servant of God! Nine months of silence and stillness to wait with his Lord. Likewise, Elizabeth retreats for five months of solitude in the early months of her pregnancy. Five months living in retreat from the world and sitting with the Lord in gratitude and expectation for what is to come.
Imagine what such an extended holy retreat of silence and solitude would do for your own faith-life. Only when we quiet our own voice and the voices of those around us can we truly attend to God’s voice calling out to us.
The psalmist instructs us how to wait well, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” (Psalm 37:7) Likewise, the prophet Jeremiah reminds us, “It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:26)
How might we respond to the invitation to wait quietly and patiently for God in the midst of our busy twenty-first century lives?
We can reimagine an unexpected moment of waiting as a gift to notice and savor God’s presence. Opening our hearts to the assurance that God is present with us wherever we go allows us to receive the blessing of sweet communion with him wherever we find ourselves. Even in the grocery store’s long check-out line, or the traffic stand-still when we’re already late. As we tamp down the temptation to impatience, we create space to receive these inconveniences as opportunities to create an interior sanctuary with God.
We can also expand our definition of prayer to include more than just short snatches of closed-eye request-making. Prayer can become the way of our life, offered up moment by moment to the God who sees us and holds us in his care. Practicing centering prayer—a beautiful offering of wordless prayer—allows us to simply rest in God’s presence, receiving his love and grace. We may not be able to find nine or even five months of silence and solitude, but we can take five minutes at various times throughout the day to re-center our hearts in the stillness with God.
Maybe the waiting no longer has to be the hardest part. If we transform our waiting rooms into mini-sanctuaries of peace, we can enjoy true communion with God as we wait.