The waiting season

Take time, slow down, be still, be awake to the Divine Mystery that looks so common and so ordinary, yet is wondrously present.” –Edward Hays

A longer version of this essay was published in The Heart of Christmas, a Guideposts anthology. It’s also included in my book, Writing Home. — CL

The Waiting Season

December 13, 2003

Advent is a time of waiting and anticipation; a time that feels as if something truly awesome is about to unfold. For most Christian churches, it marks the beginning of the liturgical year. Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day — the Sunday closest to November 30 — and ends on Christmas Eve. If Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, it is then counted as the fourth Sunday of Advent. In many churches, a ceremonial candle is lighted near the altar every week during the season.

I still remember my first Advent calendar. A simple cardboard model, it was sprinkled with gold and silver glitter and had tiny perforated windows to be opened daily until Christmas. Behind each window was a small illustration associated with the Nativity in Bethlehem – an angel with a trumpet, a Wise Man, or a shepherd with a lamb.

My best friend in grade school was a devout Catholic and a seasoned authority on the proper use of Advent calendars. As she often reminded me, the perforated windows were meant to be opened only on their designated days. Sneaking a peak at the future was strictly prohibited.

Being a practical Presbyterian at the time, I could see nothing sinful in staying ahead of schedule. And by the second week of Advent, I knew what was behind every door and window, including the largest and final one that revealed the baby Jesus. Once I did this, of course, Id completely spoiled my own fun. Half the beauty of any Advent calendar, after all, is the magical sense of wonder and anticipation it provides. If nothing else, Id learned a small lesson in patience — or how to wait gracefully.

“Most of us think of waiting as something very passive,” writes Catholic theologian Henri Nouwen in “Waiting for God,” a lovely essay on Advent. “Active waiting means to be fully present to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it.”

My own sons birthday also falls during Advent. Nate just turned eighteen last week — a landmark birthday that got me thinking about patience, grace, seasons, and the incredible journey of motherhood.

A senior in high school now, Nate is over six feet tall and diligently preparing for college. Every day after school he makes a beeline to the mailbox, hoping to find acceptance letters from the various universities hes applied to. He is in a waiting mode, too, anticipating a bright and challenging future.

My duties as a parent often seem paradoxical. I must help my child feel grounded and secure, yet loosen my maternal grip a little more each year. And like most parents, I often try to imagine what the future holds. I want some assurance that my boy will be safe, happy, and fully capable of managing on his own. But its not for me to know whats behind every door or window to his future.

The only thing I have for certain is the moment at hand, a moment to be seized and cherished. Its another lesson in patience for me – one little window at a time. — Cindy La Ferle