They are words my grandfather is famous for, though I most often heard them from my mother. “You remember what Granddaddy always says, ‘Learn to wait,’” she would remind us. In these instances waiting was almost certainly some brand of drudgery. It was what we had to do on long car trips, in long amusement park ride lines, or in the lead-ups to birthdays or Christmas or the last day of school. Waiting felt like paying dues – something we had to endure before we could make our way to whatever prize lay in the distance.
I thought about all of this as I listened to the sermon in church this past Sunday. As many priests do this time of year she reminded us that Advent is a time of waiting. She commented that for many of us the most commonplace forms of waiting – for tables at restaurants, for meetings to start, for a coffee date to arrive, etc., have recently been supplanted by the most commonplace form of mindless occupation – the smartphone. I am not here to curse the evils of the iPhone, the digital camera, or the internet. I believe that by and large they are all significant boons to modern life and that we are better off with them than we were without them. Nevertheless, the fact remains that simple, undistracted waiting is becoming increasingly unfamiliar to many of us; so much so that I would guess most of us view it with the same intolerance that a five-year-old views the 30-ish days that clutter the path from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
I’m here to turn that thinking on its head. I say that waiting is a blessing. I say that waiting is a gift.*
Esperar is the Spanish word for “to wait.” It is also the Spanish word for “to hope.” I’m sure I’m not the first person to wax philosphical about this coincidence. That, however, makes it no less relevant here. When we hope for something it is because we are facing an unknown. We must then wait to discover whether or not our hope will come to be. Does this mean then, that a life without waiting is a life without hope? I don’t think so. But I think that for the most part hope is implicit in waiting. Waiting means expectation. It means we are looking ahead to something. It means we have something worth our excitement and anticipation.
This is true in my own life beyond the Christmas season. We are in the middle of a very long wait in our adoption process. Referral wait times for Korean placements are currently running ten months. Every time someone asks me how the adoption process is going I shrug my shoulders and sigh. “We’re still waiting.” And yes, the waiting is hard. But we have a child to wait for. We are so lucky to be waiting; so lucky to know that at the end of these many months we will have another wonderful little boy in our family.
For adults, December is an easy time of year to view waiting with relief, since many of us have a hard enough time as it is getting everything done before footed pajamas scamper out of bed on Christmas morning. But muttering to yourself, “Thank goodness I still have a week left before Christmas,” is not the same thing as embracing the wait.
Embracing the wait means that we reflect on what is coming. We prepare ourselves for it. Whether we are waiting for the Christ child or a Korean child, when we do it right we are better off for it.
*I understand that there are exceptions to this. Waiting for a loved one to come home from a military deployment. Waiting for the results of a medical test. This is not the kind of waiting I’m talking about.