Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Waiting for God

Waiting is not a very popular attitude. Waiting is not something that people think about with great sympathy. In fact, most people consider waiting a waste of time. ... For many people, waiting is an awful desert between where they are and where they want to go. And people do not like such a place. They want to get out of it by doing something.

Henri Nouwen

In preparation for the Advent season this year, before all the craziness I talked about in my last post hit us, I purchased two devotionals. The first, Let Every Heart, I'm using with my girls. It's an older book, and it can be purchased used nice and cheap from Amazon (which is what I did)! To be honest, though it's billed as a family devotional, it would be better for pre-teens and teens, in terms of the level of the writing.

However, we enjoy the hymns that precede each devotional, and the singing helps prepare our hearts for the message to come. The devotions themselves are short and include questions for discussion at the end, as well as a little ending prayer. This devotional is good for me on days when I'm short on time, because it doesn't take long to read. I just find myself paraphrasing as I go for my girls, 5 and 7. (The 5-year-old has a short attention span and doesn't seem to be getting much out of it, but the 7-year-old is listening.)

I'm sure there are better kid Advent devotionals out there, but for us, this is the first time we have been more intentional about devotions and Advent. So, it's more about the exercise itself that is important to our family.

For myself, I bought Watch for the Light, which is a collection of Advent and Christmas readings, including pieces by C.S. Lewis, Annie Dilliard, Thomas Merton, and more.  (There's even a Sylvia Plath poem.) These are meatier readings, worthy of more time and thought. I have only read about three or four so far. One was too stuffy and didactic, but the others I've really enjoyed. I like the scholarly feeling of this book.

I really loved Henri Nouwen's piece, "Waiting for God" (also the title of this post) and the source of the beginning quote). I like how it gets me thinking. I'm not a waiter; I'm a doer. I'm terribly impatient.

But, God asks us to wait.

Consider Nouwen's insights on purposeful waiting. He explains how, in the beginning of the gospel of Luke, we see Mary and Elizabeth, waiting. But, this is no ordinary waiting; they are waiting with a sense of promise. Of course, they are both with child, but their situation teaches us that if we believe we have the seed of promise within us, we are ready for waiting, God-style.

"We can only really wait if what we we are waiting for has already begun for us. So waiting is never a movement from nothing to something. It is always a movement from something to something more," says Nouwen.

Nouwen also teaches us the benefits of what he terms "active waiting." He says it's all about being present in the moment. That's a lesson worth learning for an impatient doer like me, often distracted with tasks and lists of "what's next" scrolling through my brain.

"Active waiting means ... the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it. A waiting person is someone who is present to the moment, who believes that this moment is the moment."

Dear Lord: During this season of Advent, of preparing for the day we celebrate your birth, teach us how to wait. Help us learn that you have planted the seed of promise within each and every one of us, if only we believe. Help us learn to have faith that you can do something miraculous through us, if only we wait patiently. Embue us with a sense of  hope and purpose that allows us to do this important work of waiting, while still being present to the moment. Amen.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Keeping it Simple for the Holidays

Photo Credit: Beth May, Copyright 2010

I'm a bit of a type A personality. If I'm doing something, I'm doing it all the way. No in-between for me. You can imagine what the holidays are like in our family. We go out to the tree farm and hand cut our tree; we have a tree decorating party that night with fancy drinks and fruit trays and hors d oeuvres (this is just for the five of us); we decorate inside and out; we bake multiple kinds of cookies; we wrap each gift ourselves; we make sure our Christmas cards are out the first week of the month; we listen to Christmas music; we DVR every Christmas movie we don't already own; we go into the city for special holiday activities (this year it was touring a historic mansion, but we've done ice skating downtown, carriage rides, candelit visits to the area's conservatory).

I love all of it. It doesn't feel like too much--well, not usually.

But, this year God is telling me something. He started out with Thanksgiving. We were all so sick with the stomach flu we had to postpone the holiday until Friday. It was nice, but not quite the same. My mom was still feeling badly when we left Ohio. We just assumed it was the virus. At the same time, back in Pittsburgh, my father in law had spent Thanksgiving in the hospital.

Over the past few weeks, my mom has not gotten better, but has undergone multiple tests and doctor visits. For the first time ever, she doesn't have any Christmas decorations up yet. (And, in case you were wondering, she's the one who cultivated in me my love for all things Christmas by setting the perfect example.) She suffers from multiple health issues, and it's hard for anyone--doctors included--to quickly pinpoint what exactly is wrong at a given time and come up with a quick course of treatment, but we are all optimistic that she'll get this flare or attack or event under control soon. We're saying lots of prayers.

My father in law ended up having surgery a little over a week ago. He's hanging in there. The surgery was necessary, and hopefully will get his condition under control, once he heals, but it will be a process. He's still in a lot of pain. We are saying many prayers.

We're also working through some other issues within our family--and we're just at the beginning of a long road to change. If you can imagine, it has been a serious November/December. My husband and I take refuge in the joy our kids bring, and we've been keeping up with the demands of everyday life, as we all must do, even in the face of sadness, or change, or even tragedy.

But, these things take their toll, and I've been feeling a bit down (which I hear is quite normal during the holidays; it's just never been the case for me before). You might think I'm leading up to say that I'm down because the events swirling around our families have conspired to put me behind in my holiday merry-making, but, somehow, they haven't. The house is decorated fully; the cards out; the carols and movies cranked full volume; the cookies begun.

But the price? No personal devotions, no blog posts (pretty silly that a Christian-themed blog has been silent during the first three Sundays in Advent), no down time.

As usual, my best friend and husband have to swoop in to remind me: Do you NEED to do this, or that, or that? Can't you simplify? Get help. Take a break. So I'm quieting down, calming down--asking myself with each little thing I pick up--do I really need to do this? Usually the answer is No. It's hard for the perfectionist in me. Really hard.

Ironically, I'm trying to slow down and be more thoughtful during the busiest time of the year. I have two different Advent devotionals that I'll talk about in my next post that are helping me. They're teaching me about waiting--a most appropriate attitude for Advent. Waiting for family members' health to improve, waiting for God's resolution to some weighty problems, waiting for the day we can rejoice in our Savior's birth--no matter what happens with our earthly concerns.