The Wisdom of Advent – Learning to Wait
Week 3: Joy.
We’re entering the third week of Advent, lighting the rose-colored candle (the liturgical color for joy) in our Advent Wreath. This week, I’ll explore what Advent can teach us about finding joy as we wait.
During a season of waiting, it can feel like joy isn’t within our reach. We may be overwhelmed with confusion, frustration, unrelenting busyness, or the numbness of being worn down and exhausted. Joy can be just a dim memory we experienced once upon a time. But no season of waiting is relentlessly hard. There are moments of joy available to us if we can be attentive enough to recognize them.
Joy is a complex word to define. It’s more than simple “happiness.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “Joy is much bigger than happiness. While happiness is often seen as being dependent on external circumstances, joy is not.”1 Joy is a state of mind, one which Tutu says leads to a life of satisfaction and meaning. Using this definition, it’s easier to see how joy is possible even during a difficult time when we don’t consider ourselves “happy.”
Although Advent waiting may be primarily characterized by introspection and quiet, it is also a time of expectant joy. Advent reminds us that God has come, is coming, and will come again. The expectant joy associated with God’s kingdom being here but not yet here is a challenging one to grasp but also a helpful one to remember when we’re in a season of waiting.
James Martin explains, “Paradoxically, Christian waiting also encourages us to find God in our present – not simply in our future. God is not only coming; God is already here. So while we anticipate the future with hope, we know that living mindfully in the present is a key way to encounter God….Find God today – but wait in hope for a beautiful future.”2
It’s important to fill our hearts with the joyful reminder that Christ was born and continues to remain at work on earth. But it can be easy to miss the signs of God’s presence in our world at this very moment. There is very real tragedy and suffering in our world. And we’re bombarded by media messaging that feeds our growing anxiety, fear, helplessness, and anger. These messages are carefully crafted to hook our attention and get us emotionally charged, so we consume even more of their content.
But mindfulness and gratitude can be effective antidotes. As Martin says, we can encounter God in our lives and open ourselves to the experience of joy if we live mindfully in the present, recognizing and savoring the blessings in each day. These may seem small compared to the weight of waiting, but even small amounts of joy can help sustain us.
We also know that the full kingdom of God is not here yet. As we wait, we’re encouraged by God to wait with expectant joy. We can apply this approach to many different times of waiting. We can find the moments of joy that break through the hard times. These moments give us strength and hope to sustain us in our waiting. We don’t have to delay joy till our season of waiting is done, and we don’t need to be perfect or do something to earn the right to feel joy. How we choose to act each day matters, and choosing to look for moments of joy, even in seasons of hardship, can change the quality of our lives.
Finding joy in our lives doesn’t mean that there won’t still be hardship or that waiting will be easy. But it does change the way we bear these burdens. Desmond Tutu describes this, “Discovering more joy does not, I’m sorry to say, save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreak without being broken.”3
1. The Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams, The Book of Joy, 3.
2. James Martin, SJ, In All Seasons, For All Reasons – Praying Throughout the Year, 66.
3. The Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams, The Book of Joy, 12.