The Extravagance of Advent … in Waiting
Part 2 of a weekly Advent blog written by Doug Kelley and Ted Wueste (The Extravagance of Advent)
Remarkably, both Ted and I underwent treatment for acute myeloid leukemia within the last 19 months. Crazy. Stem cell transplant is a risky procedure in many ways, but actually not as dramatic as it sounds. We were both in each other’s rooms (six months apart) during these critical events, along with other family and friends. Basically, the procedure involved dripping what looks like a strawberry Slushy intravenously into our bodies. It took about an hour. No big deal. Then came the waiting. Weeks of waiting for our new immune systems to kick into gear. Each day, ninety minutes after the 4 am blood draw, we would peek bleary eyed at our Mayo Clinic portals to see if our white blood cell counts had moved from 0. Each day, encouragement from the staff, “It will happen. Be patient. It takes time.” Waiting. Like our lives depended on it…because our lives did depend on it.
What if our lives do, actually, depend on waiting? Pausing? Being present to the moment? Paula Gooder, in a wonderfully insightful advent book, The Meaning is in the Waiting, describes waiting as what gives meaning. We frequently believe that meaning and purpose are found in the future (“Once COVID is over, I’ll be happy, again.” “When my daughter stops rebelling, life will be back to ‘normal’.”). In tangible outcomes. So, waiting becomes more of a “gutting it out,” hoping the future turns out as we want.
Instead, waiting can be a place where we experience God in the present.
The temptation for both of us, post-transplant, was to only wait for the future, “Come on little German stem cells (we both had German stem cell donors). Set up your new home. Do your thing! Then we can get back to normal.” The danger in this, of course, is that waiting for tends to shift our attention away from what God is doing, now. It puts us on a never-ending treadmill of waiting for the next thing, the next event, the next whatever, that we hope will make us feel safe and happy. In sharp contrast, waiting in the present can provide an enduring sense of being with God, listening to Him, receiving His comfort and perspective.
Some have said that God exists in the eternal now. Emily Dickinson wrote, “Forever is composed of Nows.” And, Jesus beautifully points out that, “This is eternal life, that they know [italics ours] you, the only true God…” (John 17:3). Present tense. Not, “will know you,” but do know you! So, when our lives are not just as we hope or when we’re excitedly looking for something to happen in the future, we still find God in the now, not in the next week or the year to come, but now. This is the meaning in the waiting.
Some of you might be thinking, “That sounds fine for you, but my present is tough, overwhelming, hopeless.” Finding God in the present, is easier said than done. When too focused on possible future outcomes, we can experience a dark shadow over our experience of being present that is often characterized by the fear of uncertainty and the frustration of unfulfilled promises. In these times, living in the present can feel constricting, suffocating, hopeless.
Finding meaning in our waiting can also be lost when waiting feels too passive. During our tough seasons, we often find ourselves wanting to “just do something.” Just do anything! Of course, waiting is passive in certain ways. While waiting in the hospital, there was little Doug and I could do to reboot our own immune systems. Yet, there was a beautifully active part of the waiting that was thrust upon us. We were able to intentionally focus on what God has done, is doing, and has promised to do. In this sense, we both had a somewhat counterintuitive experience of deep comfort that resulted from simply being with God. With nothing we could doto “fix” things, we were free to wait on Him … with Him.
When this kind of waiting happens in our lives, we are shaped in the present moment as we connect with God’s heart. In Luke 2:25-35, we read about Simeon who was waiting for the Messiah to come. It had been revealed to him that he would not die until he saw the Savior. This waiting was not a wish or a hope or a dream that he held to the side, but an active waiting in which he watched each day for God’s appearance. This waiting shaped him until he was prepared to see the Savior. The words he offered to the mother of Jesus are poignant:
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
Simeon seems to be saying, “I’ve waited, and I’ve seen God’s salvation. If God so ordains, I am happy to die and go to heaven” … with his dreams firmly rooted in what God told him in the past; his daily life shaped by a watchful waiting with God in the present; and his hopes shaped as he waited for the Savior to come. How incredible that his faithful waiting culminated with being on the scene when Jesus was presented at the temple.
How are you waiting in this advent season? Are you waiting with a watchful anticipation, not trying to fix things or make things happen? Are you waiting for the Savior as you wait with Him?
Prayer: Lord, I want to experience meaning in my waiting. Help me to learn to wait on You, in You, and for You.
Question for reflection: Consider that the promise and the hope for the future is God Himself. What might it look like to wait with God and for God? How might that shape you differently than waiting for a particular outcome or event to transpire?
Reflect on the words of Psalm 62:1-2, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.”
In my (Ted) new book, Welcome Everything, I explore more of that journey through cancer – lots of training in waiting. 🙂