Learning to wait in the season of waiting
By Tara Roberts
I picked up my phone 110 times a day last week.
I picked it up to email my students, to text my friends, to call my grandma. But I also picked it up while my oatmeal was boiling, during Hulu commercials, while I was sitting on a bench in the mall waiting for my son. I picked it up in the five minutes between finishing my insurance forms and hearing my name called at a doctor’s appointment. I picked it up while I was brushing my teeth.
I picked my phone up over and over again, all week long, anytime I had a few seconds with nothing else to do.
I’ve never been a particularly patient person, but I lived the first 27 years of my life without a screen to distract me every time I had to sit still. A decade later, I can’t even make it through four minutes of daily tooth-brushing without scrolling through Instagram?
What if I’ve lost my ability to wait?
My mind keeps returning to this idea in these last days of Advent. I didn’t grow up in a tradition that recognized Advent, but I’ve fallen in love with its ritual and beauty since joining a Lutheran church. Every year I’m excited for the Sundays the church is draped in blue and lit with candles, when my congregation sings “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and the Holden Evening Prayer.
The word Advent comes from the Latin for “arrival” — the arrival of Jesus in the manager, in the world, in our lives, in God’s kingdom. But that’s the end of the four-week season. This year, it dawned on me that the rest of time is all about waiting.
A few nights ago I decided to put down my phone and do nothing for a few minutes. My husband and the dog snored softly on the couch beside me. I could hear pages flipping down the hall — one of my sons reading by flashlight. The refrigerator gurgled. The dryer hummed. My thoughts wandered again to waiting.
I thought of all the different shapes waiting takes in human lives. We wait for beginnings and ends, good news and bad news, trivial things and immeasurably important things. We wait for seconds and years. We wait with eagerness, nervousness, boredom, dread. Sometimes we wait with uncertainty. Sometimes we know exactly what we’re waiting for.
I remembered a week during Advent a few years ago, when I went to stay with a beloved friend while her father was in end-of-life care. It was the most time she and I had together since we were children, and we spent it in her dad’s hospital room. We ordered takeout and watched cheesy Hallmark movies, talked about everything in our lives, prayed for peace for her dad as he slept. He died the night before I had to leave.
I thought about the strangeness and sorrow of those days, and how I treasure them. When we had no choice but to wait, we embraced our time, in all its complexity, and filled it well.
In a few days, Advent will end, transforming into the brightness and cheer of Christmas. I love Christmas and all it celebrates, but this year I want to linger in these days of waiting.
I haven’t lost my ability to wait, only failed to exercise it. I’m determined to spend the last days of Advent putting down the things that distract me and practicing the spiritual and practical disciplines of silence and stillness, feeling whatever I need to feel at the moment, enjoying the people around me when I’m in company and listening to my own thoughts when I’m alone. Remembering all the things in my life I have waited for, and looking forward to the waiting, of all kinds, that I have left.
Tara Roberts is a mother, writer, journalist, educator, Lutheran and ice cream enthusiast who lives in Moscow, Idaho, with her husband, two children and dog.