To wait idly is the worst of conditions.
-Robert Falcon Scott
When I was little, our advent wreath was not a wreath at all. Ours were advent logs which stretched the length of my parents maple kitchen table and were still rough from their life outdoors and sticky with sap. The logs held 25 candles between them, counting the seemingly interminable number of days until Christmas. Each night during Advent after the dishes were cleared away, we would turn the kitchen light off and set flame to another purple candle as my mom read from our advent book about how advent meant 'coming.'
Those long ago Christmas Eve's would arrive and my mother would take out my green velvet dress that was only for very special occasions and I would pull on white leotard stockings and black patent leather shoes and bundle off through the dark to church for the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. There would be carols and Christmas oranges and the excitement that we were all watching for what was about to happen. Our family tradition was to open one present on Christmas Eve before going to bed. I always know it will be pyjamas--new flannel ones usually decorated with cats--but it is always my favourite gift to open because Christmas will steal in at some point during the night and last years pjs just won't cut it; even sleeping is an occasion.
It arrives with the parting of eyelids. The world is strangely silent in a deep breath before the realization of what day it is and an outburst of Joy to the World! and running into my sister and brother's bedrooms declaring, "It's Christmas! It's Christmas!" like some farmyard rooster who never misses his cue. Seeing the stockings which hung limp only hours before; lumpy and filled to overflowing and the presents under the tree and lights twinkling and coffee percolating and my beloved family sleepy and disheveled in their new pyjamas as they unwrap the tokens of love that someone else gave them. I never wanted the presents to end, not because I wanted more things, but because I wanted Christmas to keep going. Then there would be turkey dinner and cousins and the adults exploding into laughter in the other room over jokes I couldn't understand. It was a feast. It was a banquet. It was Christmas Day and it felt like Heaven.
In most other circumstances waiting is less exciting. There are no candles being lit to track the days, no special cookies, no songs around the piano or special decorations that are only admired for one month out of the year. There are no snow globes of the nativity with wind up music that plink out the notes of Silent Night. There is just the day in-day out of waiting for something that hope tells you is on its way. Hope whispers it, really--but she never mentions when you might expect it to arrive. Will it be tomorrow? Ten years down the road? Will you see it with your own eyes, or like Abraham--only as a shape appearing on the horizon? Waiting is the worst.
Waiting is an active job to the one who waits but it always looks like nothing to the one who isn't. Waiting is emotionally exhausting and if you wait even a few moments longer than you expected, inevitably, doubt creeps in. Maybe you are in the wrong place. Maybe the other person forgot about your appointment. Maybe you imagined that something was going to happen but it won't.
Maybe it was all in your head.
I've been waiting for a long time. For specific things to happen like wanting someone to want to publish my novel; waiting to hear back from stuff I've sent off, hoping that maybe this time it will be an acceptance and not rejection, or worse, indifference. I keep waiting for things to happen that will feel like Christmas Day--the culmination of everything that I've been waiting for. Sometimes it just feels like I am waiting for some kind of vindication for all the choices that I've made that pushed me out into deep waters alone. Not that the deep is bad, but it can be scary--especially when no one else has come with you. I've hated this waiting for so much of the time. I felt like I was just in a holding pattern and that there wasn't anything to do in the meantime except try to justify myself to myself. And really, what was the value of any of the things that I was doing? Doubts--like chicken pox--rising out of my skin to itch and keep me awake at night.
Lately it has dawned on me that I've been missing out on the treasures to be found in this period of my life that seems characterized by waiting. I've fought it. I've resented it. I've tried to get out of it. I've lost people and things along the way.
Waiting is costly. But it has its purposes and it has its own beauty--if you are willing to look for it. If you are willing to submit to it. And, once you start looking, it is hard not to see it. This past summer while walking at the off leash park, I was stunned by the variety and abundance of the smallest of wild flowers. They bloomed only a few days but they were exquisite. I have walked those trails over a hundred times and never noticed them like I did this summer. I'm not the only one who walks there. Dogs trample them unaware, tails waging like a metronome. People keep walking, eyes on the ground to avoid tripping over a protruding stone or tree root. They watch to avoid trouble, not see beauty. I know, because I'm tempted to walk that way, too--only seeing potential obstacles and missing out on the beauty that decorates even the grass.
"Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end." Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT)
Anticipation lays the groundwork for the satisfaction of a longing fulfilled. What is a celebration if not the marking of a change? It carries with it the eager expectation of hopes that cannot help but be fulfilled. And, maybe the satisfaction and celebration that I am longing for isn't the kind that is found in the activities of mortals, like books published. Maybe it is Eternity set in my human heart that I am yearning for-- but for now, I want to see everything that is beautiful in this time. I want to celebrate the waiting like Advent because the coming joy is as inevitable as Christmas day.