Patient Waiting and Joyful Preparation
Paws and Prepare!
At home we have two beautiful German Shepherd dogs – Ruby (a four-year old) and her daughter Holly (a two-year old). In October 2021, we noticed changes in Ruby after mating; she started to get bigger; and it was confirmed that she was pregnant. During the gestation period of over sixty days, we prepared Ruby’s kennel for her to give birth. A suitable wooden pit with a carpet was put in place along with an overhanging heat lamp. After our preparations, we waited patiently for the due date. A week before the date, we checked on Ruby regularly for any signs of labour. Eventually, on November 26, shortly after midnight, a cold Friday night, I received a text telling me that Ruby gave birth to two pups. The text was accompanied with a picture of Ruby with two small black bundles of fur gathered into her. Then another text quickly followed: “One more”. By Saturday morning there were eight pups. In the end she had given birth to eleven adorable pups. This experience in some way captures the Advent period of patient waiting and joyful preparation.
Advent waiting offers time for Christians to prepare their hearts for the arrival of Jesus at Christmas through prayer, perhaps some form of penance like fasting, going to Confession giving alms and supporting charities and decorating their homes with cribs and candles. Often, we see waiting as a waste of time and an excuse for some form of escapism. Waiting seems so passive and so pointless. We feel the need to be constantly moving, progressing, and being busy. In the Old Testament, while Moses led the Israelites through the desert, a cloud from God offered them guidance. When the cloud of God moved the Israelites would follow it until it halted and then they pitched camp. Sometimes the cloud would stay still for longer periods of time and the Israelites would remain in their camp awaiting God’s direction: “however long the cloud rested on the Dwelling, the Israelites remained in camp, and when it lifted they set out” (Numbers 9:22). Advent waiting reminds us that there are times in our lives where we need to slow down, and even stop, to wait for guidance and direction from God, just like the Israelites in the desert.
Pope Francis encourages young people in his Apostolic Exhortation Christus Vivit (Christ is Alive): “Young people are not meant to become discouraged; they are meant to dream great things, to seek vast horizons, to aim higher, to take on the world, to accept challenges and to offer the best of themselves to the building of something better” (15). In our 20s and 30s, we yearn for a fulfilling life of altruism, love and intimacy. Pope Francis acknowledges the longing in young people for this high ideal of love: “Young people intensely feel the call to love; they dream of meeting the right person with whom they can form a family and build a life together. This is undoubtedly a vocation which God himself makes known to them through their feelings, desires and dreams” (159). However, this journey towards our vocation, our life-commitment involves much growth in self-knowledge and periods of transition where we struggle to know where God is in our lives and what he desires of us. These are moments when we may feel confused, frustrated and apprehensive like moving on after a break-up, trying to find work after losing a job, discerning a vocation, or deciding on making a life commitment.
Advent encourages us to cultivate virtues like patience, perseverance and hope for such occasions. Discerning a vocation involves a certain waiting – waiting for greater awareness of our call or waiting for an indication from God as to what path he wants us to follow, like the Israelites travelling in the desert according to the movement of God’s presence in the cloud. Searching for that someone special, that significant other, also involves waiting, waiting in hope and trust that God will bring that right person into our lives. Advent calls us to an active waiting which is a midpoint between passivity, a symptom of indecisiveness and activism, driven by the need for productivity, achievement and success. Advent encourages us to value time for preparation, healing, and maturation before we make decisions and significant life choices like engagement and marriage.
Festina Lente – Make Progress Slowly!
Pope Francis in Christus Vivit highlights the importance of waiting and preparation before making our dreams a reality: “Our best dreams are only attained through hope, patience and commitment, and not in haste” (142). This active waiting of Advent invites us to create space for silence, healing and growth. Waiting in silence, particularly during Eucharistic Adoration, allows us to face ourselves – to face the inner voice of our egos driving us towards greed, vanity, pride and lust. Waiting in silence allows us to listen to the voice of God who teaches us how to love. We can consider these reflective questions:
- When can I create time and space to wait and listen to God in prayer?
- Where do I need healing in my life before I can move forward in my relationships?
- What parts of my life are on hold (e.g. work, relationships) and how is God speaking to me through these experiences of waiting?
Self-Denying to Self-Giving
In another Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Pope Francis called young people to “patient apprenticeship in learning to interpret and channel desires in view of authentic self-giving” (Amoris Laetitia, 284). In other words, a time of waiting and preparation is a valuable endeavour in ensuring that we follow God’s plan for our lives, not our own projects, and that we learn how to offer the gift of ourselves in love to others in our chosen vocation, free of egotism. Patient waiting and joyful preparation in time will give way to a time of feasting, celebrating love and giving thanks for God’s generosity in our lives.