God does not have express lanes, my former pastor said once. Thus Advent begins. The waiting takes hold and we learn once again that we are on God’s time, not ours. The old chant often heard at civil disobedience marches When do we want it? with its response Now! holds true for much of life. We scan for the shortest lines, grumble in express lanes, and shop online instead of waiting in real time. We have not yet figured out how to wait with joyful hope. These days waiting is an opportunity for multi-tasking as we are glued to our smart phones in grocery line ups and in airport lounges. Waiting without doing is anxiety inducing for some. We have forgotten how to be.
Advent woos us back to God, to rest in kairos–the supreme and perfect moment–and know that all belongs to God and all shall unfold in perfect timing. If we believe that God is in all things, then surely God is in this perfect moment of waiting. This, as we read in 1 Thessalonians 3, is a time when the Lord will make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all and will strengthen your hearts in holiness. The days are surely coming, Jeremiah 33 asserts, when the Lord will fulfill the promises made.
Waiting can be terrifying though. I should know this firsthand. All year I have waited and continue to do so. I have chosen to wait attentive to the present moment. The express lane was not always available to me. My experience unfolded in many ways, just as it should. The news of the tumours, the tests, the scans, the procedures, the surgery, the recovery, the grand round consultations, the decision regarding chemo, and then the chemo itself all required waiting. Some days the express lane was used–URGENT! stamped in red across my file caught my eye on more than one occasion. I had to dig deep to find the patience and trust to wait when many around me wanted things to move more quickly.
More than one night as I waited in the early stages of not knowing what I was exactly facing–though the surgeon was pretty confident he was correct–I turned to my trusty iPad and listened to Psalm 91, by Sons of Korah, breathing deeply and feeling angel wings wrap around me. I knew that nothing I could do would change the outcome. This…this…was completely in God’s hands and I chose early on to believe that those were good hands. In fact, those holy hands were the best hands. Looking back as I begin this marked season of waiting, I realize that God has strengthened my heart in holiness. We cannot wait with any sense of peace if we do not dig deeply and honestly. All of the lies that we believe must be shattered. The false images of our faith must be exposed until we stand with open hands. For me, some of those simplistic, trite sayings have rich meaning now. I know the cost of saying that God.has.this because I have given it over. Some of what has been given has claw marks, for sure. Some are still tear-soaked because so much crying came with the giving over. My hands do seem more open now and though I am still wary, I do respond in true Ignatian style: Take Lord, receive. You have given all to me; now I return it. Dispose of it wholly according to your will.
Advent begins and so does Round 5 of my chemo. I have six infusions left if my body can tolerate them and two weeks where my body can rest for a total of eight weeks. Round 4 was challenging and now I can only wait patiently to see what this cycle will bring. I could go to a fearful place but I have learned that does not allow for joyful hope. I could take a confident I have this attitude but in reality I have learned that I do not–God.has.it. I cannot predict that all will go well. I cannot presume that some of my experience will be horrible. I can only greet each day–and sometimes only moments of each day–with joyful hope.
A friend of mine was sharing with me the understanding of suffering versus pain because I feel as if I have not suffered much which makes no sense to me. I would not wish this experience on anyone so clearly I am not naively believing this to be a stroll in the park. She explained the difference between pain–as a physical or emotional ache–and suffering–as an emotional reaction to the pain. I have been trying that statement on to see if it fits for me. There have definitely been painful moments these past 11 months. I cannot deny that. I have cried, ranted, and felt defeated. Interestingly enough, I have primarily stayed in the present and accepted what is going on. My spirit has been fairly resilient. Somewhere at the centre of this storm, is a calmness. I have not always been happy about what is unfolding but I have tried to look to joyful hope and to grasp it firmly. Perhaps that is part of the secret of waiting well.
I wish each of you a blessed Advent. May your waiting be done joyfully in hope and may your hearts be strengthened in holiness.
What is the the most difficult challenge in waiting for you?
What qualities do you need in order to wait well?
Be with us, Emmanuel,
as we wait in joyful hope
for your coming once again.
Strengthen our hearts with holiness
and increase our love for one another and
for all things, because you exist in all things.