Impatiently Waiting to Patiently Wait

It’s December 8 already; one third of the way through the Advent calendar that I still haven’t dug out of the basement closet and put up. We did manage to put up the tree, and even decorate it this year, Thanksgiving being so early and all. (Last year we opted for the naked look).

Noooooo, my soul moans, don’t let these precious days slide by unnoticed! I always have this fantasy of spending December sipping tea and sitting on the couch with loved ones, admiring the lights of the Christmas tree, maybe while listening to some of our favorite music. And it always turns out that I’m just proud to remember to water our tree as I run by.

I don’t know why it took me this long to realize it, but it’s suddenly become clear to me that if I am going to get any waiting done this month, I’m going to have to plan for it.

Time was, waiting just happened. When I was a kid, my sibs and I allocated the rotation of December days, jostling for which little cardboard doors of that sparkly advent calendar were ours to open. (Since we used the same advent calendar every year, some of the doors were torn off…so if you got those days assigned to you, you had to just pretend to open a door. Obviously none of us wanted those days.) Time was, perusing the Sears or Penney’s catalogue, both to make my list and then to fantasize about what Santa might bring me, took up a number of hours each week. Time was, the days leading up to Christmas felt like an enormous mountain to climb, and it seemed like we would never get there!

Now the days feel more like a landslide behind me which I am trying to outrun as I scoot down that mountain as fast as I can. Donnnn’tttt loookkkkk baaaacccckkkkkkkkkk!!!!!

So, it occurs to me belatedly, if I really want to do it, I need to put waiting on my calendar. Now for me, the word “waiting” and the word “impatient” seem to be grafted onto the same tree trunk. Often, when I am waiting, I am wishing away that time, not fully there at all. If I’m not crabby, it’s because I’m distracting myself, playing Scrabble on my iPhone in the long check out line, or talking on the phone while I sit outside my kid’s school. That’s not what I need to calendarize. I have plenty of that! There should be a different word for this intention to cultivate patient waiting.

Years ago, my office bought a new phone answering system, and for some reason the wait between punching in the extension you wanted and getting that person on the phone was insanely long. Probably two full minutes. No matter what kind of music we tried putting on it, people were inevitably crabby when they finally got to us. Finally, someone had the wise idea to change our answering machine. When you called, you got this message:

“After you push in your party’s extension, please enjoy an extended time of silence to meditate and pray.” And then, rather than playing music, it was completely quiet. After that, the voices that spoke from our answering machine ceased being frustrated and angry, and instead, greeted us with words like, “Wow! I’m going to start calling here every day just to enjoy that quiet!” or “I wish that had lasted a little longer!” (Someone from the Washington Post business section even got wind of it, and put a little blurb in about us entitled, “Just pray someone answers.”) It was all about creating space just for waiting.

For me, I think, that space is most accessible early in the morning, before anyone wants anything from me, and late at night, after anyone wants anything from me. It will be dark during both of those time periods. And the house will be quiet. But the trick is, I have to turn my mind toward intentionally waiting. Not making my day’s to do list in the morning or thinking with regret of everything I didn’t accomplish at night’s end. Just sitting in a place of anticipation, expectation, even longing.

My favorite line in a Christmas carol is “Let every heart prepare Him room.” That’s what I want to do during my daily times of waiting: prepare the room, just as I do when a guest I love is coming to stay with me. I clean, I put on fresh sheets and sometimes even put out fresh flowers. Which is to say that I won’t be tweeing, emailing, calling, texting, IMing, skyping, zooming, or otherwise pinging you during those times.

I want to be offline, but thoroughly plugged in. (I’ll let you know how it goes.)

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