"This is what I shall tell my heart, and so recover hope: the favors of God are not all passed, his kindnesses are not exhausted. They are renewed every morning." Lamentations 3:21-23
I had almost believed I would avoid it this year, until my mother had to be hospitalized the night after Thanksgiving because of a bad case of pancreatitis.
You know: feeling Particularly Single during the holidays.
The past few months had felt like a victory for me. After two failed romantic relationships back to back, I was not just content to be single, I was relieved. The end of the first relationship might not have torn my heart, but it tore the veil off my eyes that had kept me from seeing the riches and abundance of love I had in the form of friendship. The end of the second relationship was a transition into a sweet friendship, a better fit than what we had anticipated.
And both had driven my “roots” further into the love of Christ, who has kept up his end of the bargain by satisfying me with his unfailing love each day. It was all so much more than I had hoped for.
But as I found myself changing travel plans to stay an extra day to support my father, who has his own health problems, the sadness over not having a partner to help me felt overwhelming.
I’m sure I’m not the only one for whom the holidays seem to constantly pierce their hearts. We are surrounded by advertisements, images, and songs about love and romance, family, and prosperity. It’s an advent all its own, telling us what will save us. A magical romance. A perfect family. A luxury car with a huge bow on it.
If we’re not careful, we’ll start lighting our own figurative candles as we wait for those things.
The season of Advent is a gift each year, a reminder that waiting is a holy thing. Yes, we look forward to Christmas when the “hopes and fears of all the years” are met in Christ, and it is right to anticipate fulfillment of our longings one day. Christ will come, the light will break into the darkness. Come, thou long expected Jesus, we sing.
But for some reason, God has sanctified waiting and has called his people to do so, expectantly.
I sometimes wonder if waiting isn’t the closest experience to eternity we can have in this life. It is the time in between different moments of “life,” seemingly wasted.
As John Lennon so aptly put it, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
I wonder if God calls us to celebrate waiting because the lie we’re all most susceptible to is that if we just get what we want, we’ll be OK. When this is our mentality, we actually forget to live. We become so future-oriented that we can ignore the presence of God in our midst and the signs of the Divine work in this world. We can miss out on the good things he provides daily, hourly.
Waiting forces us to be present. It requires that we need to watch the time and to be expectant for the waiting to end, no matter what the end result. It requires us to hope in God.
What I’ve realized is that it’s not the arrival of whatever we’re longing for that makes us who we are, it’s what we do with our waiting.
After all, when Jesus came many of the people who were waiting for him the most didn’t recognize or receive him. They had the Word made flesh in front of them, and it wasn’t enough. They were expecting a majestic political leader who would overthrow the Romans. Instead they got an average-looking carpenter from Nazareth who conquered death and hell.
I wasn’t there — I don’t know how they were waiting for the Messiah. I don’t know every heart. But somehow the focus seemed to be on their expectation of what God would do.
I can’t point my finger, though. I’ve certainly been guilty of waiting for God to fulfill my plans and purposes. My track record in terms of career aspirations and dating is consistent: I have a really limited imagination, and very little trust in God. Focusing on what I didn’t have made me angry with God. As I’ve held in view my small plans for the future, I’ve often missed out on the very real Divine presence and abundance in my midst. It never looks like what I imagined, but it’s always better.
There was one man, though, who was watching the signs and waiting expectantly “for the consolation of Israel.” I’m sure he had hoped for that political leader, too. But when he was presented with the Christ child he sang of God’s salvation. Somehow in all those years of waiting, it had prepared him to recognize God’s grace when it came.
As I spent this week processing the reality that my parents are aging and will need more and more — not less and less — help, I mourned the reality that I don’t have a husband to support me in this. At 34, it’s not always easy to hope.
But I’ve also realized the hard way that having a life partner will not fix all the broken things. Just as I’m sure those who are waiting for children — or who have children — know that they make life more, not less, complicated. And we all know the song, that the more money we come across, the more problems we see.
I need more than this world can offer, even if those things can sometimes be good. Advent reminds me that God’s kindnesses are not exhausted and are worth waiting for. May we be able to recognize them when they come.