Waiting in the midst of a culture that does not want us to wait
If you're old enough to remember Mr. Rogers, whose "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" children's program ran on public television for years, you may remember his song, "Let's think of something to do while we're waiting."
Ring a bell? If it does, you'll be humming "while we're waiting" in your head long after you've finished reading this. That's OK, because waiting is the theme of this piece, and waiting is something we all might ponder during Advent, the traditional time of waiting for Christ.
Mr. Rogers knew that waiting is very difficult for kids. Remember how it seemed as if your birthday would never arrive? Can you imagine family vacations without that refrain, "Are we there yet?"
We've all been that little child, waiting for grandparents or cousins to arrive, gazing out the window and down the street, longing impatiently to see our loved ones. Little kids even have a hard time waiting for their parents to serve dessert.
Life explodes with events for which we can't wait, but we must wait.
Fast-forward a few years, and waiting isn't quite the same for us adults. We've lost some of our sense of eager anticipation, haven't we? We know something kids don't know: Life is finite, so why rush it?
And some of our waiting is hard, such as the times we wait for a lab report from our doctor or wait to hear the garage door open to know that a teenager is home safe. And that next big birthday? It does not seem so urgent anymore, and we'd be just as happy to postpone it for as long as we can.
We sometimes feel ambivalent about certain events, such as a relative's visit, a dinner party, a holiday. Such an event would have had us in knots of frenzied expectation when we were children or the first time we experienced it.
At the same time, and rather paradoxically, we live in a culture that doesn't want or expect to wait, ever. We send an email and want an immediate response from the person we sent it to. We check our smartphones every few minutes. We don't wait to find out who wins the primary because now we've become accustomed to poll results keeping us constantly informed.
Merchants devise new plans to get our purchases to us practically as soon as we've ordered them, and some are exploring the idea of employing a drone to do so more efficiently and quickly.
But our purchases aren't the only thing we can't wait for. Want to lose 30 pounds this month? We know that's impossible, but our eyes are drawn to those ads. We don't want to wait.
The season of Advent arrives in the midst of frenzied lives that now live in an extremely demanding culture, a culture that refuses to wait. It's a short season, only four weeks, made shorter by the craziness of December.
Let's admit it: How many of us have ever silently wished that this spiritual season came at a less busy time? There are so many Christmas parties, so much shopping to get done, cookies and other holiday goodies to make, presents to wrap. Who has time, right?
Yes, culturally we've subverted our season of waiting by making Christmas an overwhelming endeavor, almost a race, rather a time that should cause us to slow down and pray and focus on the reason for Christmas.
We've forgotten that Advent is intertwined with Christmas and is a time of waiting. The word itself comes from the Latin "adventus," which means coming or arrival. It means we're not there yet, folks. It means we're waiting, that activity we don't do very well in this culture.
We who thump the steering wheel when the red light seems as if it will never change are asked to contemplate the "people of God" waiting centuries for a Messiah. And we're asked to anticipate in Christ's coming again, in the fullness of time, which could be next week or next millennia.
How can I think about waiting for that? Who's got that kind of time? Is that who we want to be?
Perhaps that's the challenge we might take up for Advent this year. We can think about waiting. We can think about slowing down and perhaps try to imagine ourselves as the kid with her nose pressed to the window single-mindedly willing Grandma to appear down the street.
Sure, it's a busy time. But maybe we can turn waiting into prayer to the Christ for whom we wait. Let your mind seek stillness as you wait in long checkout lines. Find God when the yellow traffic light heralds your next delay. Turn off the television and give yourself 10 minutes, waiting, in a darkened room with a glowing tree.
Wherever you happen to be waiting impatiently, remind yourself to be mindful of waiting for the God who is waiting for you. Make time to wait, don't wait for it to happen.
Wait like a kid, in joyful anticipation.
Caldarola is a freelance writer and columnist for Catholic News Service. She lives in Nebraska.