We are coming out of the season of Advent and are in the last preparations for Christmas – celebrating the birth of Jesus, our Savior. This year, Christmas decorations appeared especially early.
It seems that we need something beautiful to look forward to as our reality of life is still very much impacted by this global pandemic and we are waiting to come back to at least some normality in our lives.
Waiting is never easy. Waiting makes us feel uncomfortable. Waiting is something we need to endure until what we are waiting for becomes reality.
At the same time, there is also beauty in waiting. Advent, the season of waiting, is filled with candlelight as the days grow darker. In churches we have traditions of reading specific Scripture and lighting the Advent candles. Many families have their traditions and yes, there are all those cookies. As a Swiss married to a Dutch my heart grows warmer (and stomach wider) when there is a bowl filled with all kind of nuts, chocolate and mandarins, not to mention Zimtstern (cinnamon star cookies), Lebkuchen (gingerbread) and speculaas (Dutch cookies)…
Advent is much more than traditional food though. Advent is an invitation to become still and a welcome balance to the often hectic preparations for Christmas. Advent reminds us that waiting and silence is important for our soul.
And yet, waiting is often challenging…
Since several months, I find myself in a place of discernment. I long to hear and follow the voice of the Good Shepherd as I pray and wait for confirmation and direction. I yearn to recognize God’s voice and receive the faith to trust and follow in obedience.
However, in my season of waiting, I experience silence.
As I wait for confirmation and direction, I do not have the fuzzy feelings of candlelight and cookies. My experience shows me that waiting is never easy. My experience reveals that waiting makes me feel uncomfortable. My experience shouts that waiting is something I need to endure until what I am waiting for becomes reality. And I struggle with my experience of waiting. Instead of peace and trust, my soul tends to be filled with anxiety and worries.
Anxiety and worry were my companions for several months. Sometimes all-consuming, sometimes in the background but always present. As a family we knew that we would follow God’s invitations – once we actually hear them.
I feel that often I need stronger faith in seasons of waiting than actually taking the step of faith and obedience.
A trusted friend once shared with me how God showed him that a very painful situation was actually a gift from God’s hand. His response was that this gift came in a very ugly wrapping paper. Still, it was a gift.
I wonder, if my own experience of what I see as an ugly wrapping paper can cloud my soul, preventing me from recognizing the gifts God is offering me…
Can there be blessing in waiting? Can there be blessing in not receiving the good things we are longing for? Can God be present in the silence?
Another friend shared how this present season of loss and insecurity due to Covid-19 offered her some beautiful and precious moments as well. She was forced to slow down, to stop and pay attention. She was forced to spend time with her husband and teenage children as they had to stay at home during weeks of lockdown. She was given the space and time to simply be in God’s presence and be drawn into deeper intimacy with Christ. And that is beautiful.
Yes, there is pain, loss and even despair all around us. Lives of family, friends, neighbors and strangers alike are impacted, sometimes tragically so. And yet, there might be gifts under the ugly wrapping paper.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting with my wife in a deserted park with a cup of coffee in my hands. In that park I shared about my fears, worries and anxiety in the midst of all our open questions and unclear future. On that day we spoke a prayer and declaration before the seen and the unseen world that we would trust God to lead and guide us – in his time. We declared that we did not trust him with our preferred outcome, but we choose to trust the goodness and love of God. We choose to trust the sovereignty of God. We choose to trust that God most certainly will offer us all the guidance and direction we need - when he thinks the time is right.
God is always working in our lives. He is always inviting us to grow closer to him and experience his presence even if we cannot see it.
Nothing changed after that time of prayer in the deserted park. I am still waiting to hear from God. I am still waiting for direction and guidance. But something in my waiting is shifting. I start to embrace the perceived silence of God and become aware of my growing desire for him. In a way, my perception of God’s silence and absence started to draw me closer into his presence. The frantic waiting turned into a quiet expectation.
There is beauty in the waiting and maybe because we need to be reminded of that simple truth, Advent became part of our liturgical calendar about 1500 years ago.
Advent reminds us that in times of waiting, we can find hope, peace, joy and love. We find those for the very reason we will celebrate Christmas in a few days: Immanuel, God is WITH US!
How about you? What are you waiting for? How do you experience the tensions of “not yet”?
One more thought:
Do you feel a growing desire to pay attention to the gifts God is offering you in your season of waiting? Are you longing to experience God’s presence in the heavy moments of silence? Then Spiritual Direction might be exactly what you need!
Photo by Quing Ye on Unsplash