Every year, I reflect on my Advent failures. Lately, I’ve even gotten so that I am thinking about failing before I even begin.
While I’m sure there’s a bit of memento mori in all of this, I’m not sure it’s the right approach.
It started off well and good: I was reflecting and trying to improve. And then it went sideways, and I almost started to plan to fail. (Exhibit A: I didn’t even try to get my Advent wreath out in time for the first Sunday of Advent.)
As I was sitting in Mass, wrangling a wiggly four-year-old and trying to keep him from talking (too much) to the (very amused) couple behind us, I heard Father say something remarkable.
“Advent is about waiting.”
He continued, in the parts I heard, to expound on how much we all hate to wait. We don’t do it well, and our prayers reflect it. We demand answers right now, or at least in five minutes. Waiting is something for other people; we’d like our latte with extra froth and that’s plenty of time to get the nod from God.
Waiting sucks, not to put too fine a point on it. And, when I stop to think about a certain devout someone in my life telling me about praying for patience, what I’m really hearing is a plea to get better at waiting.
Maybe that’s what patience is to us, in our modern zip-zap-zing culture, where you need only to say the name of your in-house digital assistant, followed by the question you didn’t know the answer to five seconds previously. (Exhibit B: Will you remember the answer to whatever you last asked Alexa/Google/Siri? Does whatever you just asked even matter? (Yes, it will rain in two hours, you should wear a jacket, and the score to the game from last night was 56-27.))
Consider the Virgin Mary in a title henceforth unconsidered: Queen of Waiting.
The Rosary is full of Mary’s waiting. Let’s look at the Joyful Mysteries, in honor of Advent:
The Annunciation: Mary waits to hear what Gabriel has to say, and then she says Yes.
The Visitation: Mary waits to tell anyone about her pregnancy, because she’s going to wait with Elizabeth until John is born.
The Nativity: Mary waits nine months for the birth of the Messiah, which comes after she’s waited on the back of a donkey to find a place to stay, which turns out to be a barn.
The Presentation: Mary waits to hear a prophecy about her Son and herself and then waits to see how exactly it will be fulfilled.
Finding Jesus in the Temple: Mary waits three days without her Son, who’s “lost” (but not).
Mary waits, and we’re not told how she waits. Her actions, though, give us a clue. After Gabriel asks her to be the Mother of God, she doesn’t wait to give an answer, a hearty “Yes” that has become some of the most beautiful Christian poetry and prayer. When she finds out about Elizabeth’s pregnancy, she doesn’t wait to head off to the hill country, dangerous though the journey will be.
There’s a time to wait, and it can be hard to figure out when. For me, a huge signpost is usually when I have nothing else to do.
“God,” I’ll pray fervently, all my attention heavenward, “please grant my request if it be your will. And right now is a great time for that Yes.”
In the waiting of Advent, when the anticipation is growing just like the baby in Mary’s womb, we learn a lesson about how we need to grow. Waiting help us shed that need to be constantly moving, constantly doing. Waiting stretches us more closely into the people God is asking us, calling us, to be.
It’s not comfortable. It’s not even always obvious that what we’re doing is waiting. Sometimes, we think we’re in the middle of something big, doing God’s work and humming right along.
And then, BAM. We lose our job. We face a sudden death. We have time and petitions on our hands in ways that we never thought we would.
Mary’s reaching out to us, this Advent. She’s calling us to embrace the waiting in a way that would seem crazy if it didn’t work so well. Can we sit and wait? Can we ignore the notifications, the dings, the distractions? Will we make time to listen in the silence the waiting makes?
image: Hadrian / Shutterstock.com