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.

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