Are you counting down the days to Christmas? I can hardly believe that in less than a week we will be enjoying the feasting and merriment of Christmas Day. It seems the way Advent has fallen on the calendar this year, with the fourth Sunday actually landing on Christmas Eve, the wait is passing by a little faster than usual.
In our house this year, we have a record number of countdowns on the go. In addition to the dollar store chocolate calendars my children rush to open before breakfast, we are also unwrapping a Christmas picture book to read each morning and adding an ornament with a different name of Jesus each evening to a colourful magnetic tile Christmas tree on our fridge.
There is something exciting about counting down the days to an event we’re looking so forward to. Our imagination can add such colour and sparkle to the anticipation. But what about the times of waiting when our imagination seems to work against us? It’s one thing to wait when we’re relatively certain what the future holds, but what if we’re waiting for the results of a blood test? Waiting on word as to how that job interview went? Waiting for a call we’re not sure will ever come and have no idea what news it will bring if it does?
That kind of waiting can open wide the door for doubt. And those doubts bring anything but the hope and peace and joy of Advent. Nothing feels certain. Sometimes we even look for ways to forget that we are waiting altogether. Distraction, not anticipation, seems the best way to get through the wait.
I’ve recently found myself in this category, waiting to hear what the next step will be in a project I have poured my heart and soul into for years. It currently sits in the hands of folks who have the power to pave the way forward or to slam the door shut, and waiting to hear which it will be has been agonizing. I don’t know the end of the story, and I am weary of weighing the pros and cons of every permutation. Weary of preparing myself for the worst, while at the same time not entirely quelling my hope for the future.
I’m sure God’s people went through many of the same emotions during the long years they awaited the coming of the Messiah. We know the story so well that it’s easy to forget they didn’t! They searched the scriptures and came up with their own narrative for how it would all unfold, little knowing that God had a very different plan than they could ever imagine or anticipate. Some busied themselves with distractions. In fact, they were so distracted by the foreign gods around them, they had no time or desire to be faithful to the one true God. And sadly, for many, God’s plan was a plan they didn’t recognize when the time finally came.
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.John 1:10-11 NIV
So what can we learn about waiting from their experience and our own? I believe there is a lot to be learned in the meantime moments of life. We learn things about ourselves while we wait. We learn things about our God while we wait. We also learn things about our spiritual enemy while we wait. He takes advantage of what is unknown to plant seeds of doubt about God’s character. It has always been so, ever since he enticed Eve in the garden, leading her to question what God said, what God meant, if God cared.
I have learned that it’s helpful for me to see waiting almost as a form of fasting. When we fast, we take that thing we long for, the thing our mind always wants to turn to, and we replace it with turning to God instead. Fasting trains us to look to God for what we need. Fasting short circuits those derailing doubts by building intimacy with our Heavenly Father. Waiting can do those things too. When we find ourselves anxious and fixated on worry while we wait, we can use those emotions as a reminder to turn to God in prayer, to place all our uncertainty and what ifs for the future in His hands.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux once said, “When we yield to discouragement or despair, it is usually because we give too much thought to the past and to the future.” If we let it, waiting can train us to live more fully in the present. It can motivate us to hold on to every bit of God’s goodness we can in the here and now. So whatever we find ourselves waiting for this Christmas, may we discover afresh that God’s grace is sufficient in every meantime moment and that His love is indeed better than life…better even than any of those things we are waiting for!
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV
Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.Psalm 63:3 NIV