The Wisdom of Advent – Learning to Wait
Week 4: Peace.
We’re now entering the final week of Advent, lighting the remaining purple candle in our Advent Wreath. This week, I’ll explore what Advent can teach us about finding peace as we wait.
Peace can be frustratingly elusive in our busy lives. Sometimes we feel too busy to get the amount of sleep our body needs. Or we can’t stop to sit and eat a meal without multitasking. And when we’re in a season of waiting, we may have fear compounding our feelings of overwhelming busyness.
Henri Nouwen describes how fear gets in the way. He says, “In our particular historical situation, waiting is even more difficult because we are so fearful. One of the most pervasive emotions in the atmosphere around us is fear. People are afraid – afraid of inner feelings, afraid of other people, and also afraid of the future. Fearful people have a hard time waiting, because when we are afraid we want to get away from where we are.”1
The Covid pandemic has also compounded our fears. According to information published by the World Health Organization2, global levels of anxiety and depression increased by 25% in the first year of the pandemic. And a recent article3 indicates these patterns of anxiety and depression continue to occur in waves when there are surges in new cases of Covid.
After more than two years of coping with loss and restrictions and then bracing for surges that seem to occur every winter, it’s not surprising that we still feel anxious and fearful.
Along with our lingering fear, there’s a strong desire to get back to “normal” after multiple years of modified or canceled goals, plans, and celebrations. We may be pushing ourselves to try harder this year to make everything perfect. And as the year winds down, we can feel like we’re running out of time to achieve what we had planned to accomplish this year.
So we can find ourselves desperate for a few peaceful moments as we’re battered by waves of fear, anxiety, and the need to “do something.” Some of us still fear getting Covid due to health factors that put us at higher risk. Or we’re afraid of a loved one contracting Covid. We’re anxious that we’re running out of time for all we had planned and hoped for this year. We’re caught in the uncertainty about when, or if, the pandemic will ever truly end. And we’re impatient or feel a lack of control in our waiting process.
Waiting includes a lot of uncertainty – we often don’t know what we’ll encounter during the process, when the waiting will end, or if there’s anything we can do to accelerate the waiting process and get to where we want to be. All this can lead to feeling frantic in our desire to make things happen while simultaneously realizing that we’re not in control. This is the opposite of feeling peaceful.
A season of waiting requires us to develop our ability to be patient. Patience is not a quality that is appreciated these days. So much in our environment and culture drives us to expect everything we want exactly when we want it. And when we can’t get it, we quickly distract ourselves to feel better.
We have so many forms of distraction readily available. Our phones distract us so that we don’t have to exercise patience in the inevitable short waits of daily life – waiting in line at a store, at the doctor’s office, waiting for a meeting to start. And when we combine even a bit of fear or anxiety with impatience, a distraction is irresistibly attractive.
We can’t be both distracted and attentive. And we can’t see God’s action in our lives if we’re constantly distracted. Peace isn’t just a nice idea meant for people who have less going on in their lives. We must have peace to be attentive to God’s presence. We can’t erase all the uncertainty or ignore the desire to “just do it” and make things happen, but we can try to build moments of peace into our time of waiting.
Peace builds on the hope, love, and joy we’ve cultivated during the first three weeks of Advent. If we have faith in wherever God is leading us, then it’s easier to find moments of peace. Recognizing God’s love for us and connecting with those who love us helps lessen our burdens. And savoring moments of joy as they occur provides a break from the hardship of waiting.
These practices help us appreciate the present moment’s reality and let go of our just-try-harder efforts to make things happen. And then we can relax into a moment of peace when we trust (even for just a few minutes!) that things are unfolding in their time. We can learn a core message of Advent – how to wait patiently in expectation, holding hope, love, joy, and peace within us.
1. From an audio lesson given by Henri Nouwen, available at https://www.avemariapress.com/products/a-spirituality-of-waiting-mp3