I've always found Advent to be a good time to reflect on the challenge and opportunity that waiting affords us.
While I can rattle off a long list of positive things about being raised in the Northeast (the quality of bagels, access to cultural events in big cities and proximity to the ocean top the list), an honest assessment would include some downsides. The most glaringly obvious one is that for most of my life I've been conditioned to be completely and totally impatient.
Slow walkers, turned around drivers, meticulous baggers in the grocery checkout line can all send me into an unmerited tizzy.
While Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel -- a duo whose music was on repeat in our household -- cautioned, "Slow down, you move too fast," they also admitted to "counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike." I just assumed that like me, they were counting them to gauge whether they had sufficient time to pass them.
Our current economy of convenience is not helping matters. Amazon Prime has moved from two-day delivery to next-day delivery. I can get groceries on my doorstep within a few hours of clicking "checkout." And when I go to read a news article online, a line below the title tells me approximately how long it will take me to read it, leaving me to judge whether I have the attention span to commit to it.
I know deep down that such a fast pace is neither healthy nor sustainable. I also know that life is filled with plenty of circumstances and situations that cannot be resolved in quick fashion, nor with guaranteed results.
One glance at my prayer list reveals just how many people I know who have been waiting a long time for some very serious things: a miraculous cure, a positive pregnancy test, a spouse, a job offer.
That brings me to Tom Petty, another regular on our family stereo, who wisely sang that "waiting is the hardest part."
I've always found Advent to be a good time to reflect on the challenge and opportunity that waiting affords us. It's the season we spend in anticipation that God will come close to us in the Incarnation.
For those on my own prayer list, that Incarnate love would look like physical healing, a baby, the embrace of a husband or wife, or a paycheck. We wait for God's love to come to us in concrete, tangible form.
Waiting is hard. We either do it well or do it poorly.
How does one wait well? I can't claim to be an expert, but I am well-versed at trying.
The first thing I've learned is that it's always better when I release the tight grip I have on whatever I'm waiting for. Relinquishing my fixation on the end result is a way of saying to God, "This is what I have planned for me. What do you have in store? Show me how it's better for me." The saints call this "holy indifference."
I've also learned not to confuse waiting with passivity, inaction or inertia. Waiting periods can be incredibly fruitful. If used well, they become times when we can extend compassion to others who are also hoping that God will deliver on his promises. And with the instruction from St. Paul to "pray without ceasing," they can be wonderful opportunities for regular, heart-to-heart conversations with God.
Lastly, waiting well means preparing for the possibility that God will actually answer our prayers. It means using that time to get things in order so that if God is pleased to grant our requests, we're ready to receive and steward that gift.
I can't claim to say with certainty that these methods will work for everyone. But I do think they are worth a try during Advent, which is a season of promise and possibility. After all, we know that no matter how things turn out, the Incarnate God will be close to us through it all.
- Elise Italiano Ureneck, associate director of the Center for the Church in the 21st Century at Boston College, writes the "Finding God in All Things" column for Catholic News Service.