Waiting. ... Something our culture despises and dreads! Hours spent in doctors' offices and hospital waiting rooms; waiting for stoplights, test results and grocery lines. Waiting fills much of our days. But do we do it well?
Our naturally addictive personalities desire instant gratification -- for anything from food to information. We wonder how we ever survived before cell phones, e-mail and Blackberries! And yet, as we rely more and more on technology, are we really any more connected or happier? Are our lives any easier? Do these technological wonders truly benefit us with more free time to spend with our families and loved ones?
The church in her wisdom gives us the season of Advent in order to help us cultivate the art of waiting and the virtue of patience. For the four weeks prior to Christmas, we are spiritually encouraged to quiet our hearts in order to prepare for the Lord's coming more deeply into our lives and our world at Christmas. But how can we sing, "For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits," when we are living in the madness of retail mania? We fuel the frenzy by going from party to party, all the while singing about kissing Santa, as we decorate our homes and deck the halls. We don't really have the opportunity to "wait" because we are thrown into the chaos of living the Christmas consumer reality as soon as the candle in the Halloween pumpkin is extinguished! There never seems to be enough time or enough money to meet all of the expectations we put on ourselves as we prepare for the big day.
So, how do we tame this season of "Madvent"? How can we adopt an "attitude of waiting" that we can live out of every day? Henri Nouwen, one of the greatest spiritual writers of our time, had much to say about the "Spirituality of Waiting." He tells us that the real secret of waiting is knowing that the seed has been planted and that something has already begun. Like a farmer who waits for his crop to grow, or a mother who waits for her baby, they know that something has started and it allows them to wait. For the world, we have received the promise, and it is the promise that allows us to wait.
My husband, Tom, and I have been blessed with four wonderful children. I think of each of them and the nine months we spent waiting for their births. What would they look like? Would it be a boy or a girl? And yet, if I only looked ahead to the end of those nine months and didn't enjoy each and every day, I wouldn't have been able to celebrate the milestones as they were growing inside of me. Each little movement, each kick, each heartbeat was precious. Yes, there is anticipation and excitement, but if we only focus on the end result we miss the richness of all of the precious moments along the way.
Henri writes that because of the promise that has been given to us, waiting is always active! The key to active waiting is to live fully in the moment -- believing that something is happening where we are and that we want to be fully present to it. "A waiting person is someone who is present to the moment, believing that this moment is the moment." Impatient people feel like the moment is empty -- they are always waiting for the real thing to happen somewhere else!
Sometimes those of us who are Christians we think that what we are waiting for and preparing for are the end times. Yet, if that is the only place we focus our eyes and our heart, we will miss everything that happens in the meantime. Christ is alive -- now -- through the gift of the Spirit, in our hearts, in one another and in the world. The Kingdom of God is not just something we hope for in the future -- it is being realized in this time and place. We are called to be awake and attentive to it!
Life has something to teach us in each and every moment -- even when we feel like we are wasting time. In every moment we have the opportunity to live fully, to live the message of the Gospel and to wait in joyful hope, actively, as we bring Christ to one another and to a world that so desperately cries out for love.
Michelle O'Rourke, R.N. M.A., is a wife, mother and ER nurse who also worked as a lay pastoral minister in a large urban Roman Catholic parish for many years. She is now the lay ecclesial ministry specialist with the Diocese of London and lives in Chatham, Ontario. Her thesis work on palliative care and spirituality has recently been published by Orbis Books and is titled "Befriending Death: Henri Nouwen and a Spirituality of Dying." Michelle facilitates retreats and workshops and can be reached through www.selahresources.ca.