A Time for Everything
“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven”
Waiting isn’t one of my virtues.
I recently read that Americans spend an average of one to two years of their lives waiting. The mocking, “Your call is important to us” from a customer service department. Switching lines in the grocery store or lanes on the street, only to discover that the line or lane you vacated is now moving at twice the speed. All of these kinds of experiences frustrate us.
Waiting is about wanting to know the answer to the question, “when?” As Americans, our insatiable quest for knowledge and information has escalated to the point where impatience and needing to have everything now is the status quo.
And waiting is about control. When we wait, we no longer have control over our time and progress in life, as we find ourselves at the mercy of others.
In my life, waiting has usually been something undesirable. I had to take a year off of school between graduating high school and my first year of college, to pay off student loans that had defaulted (a long story, how I was in high school and had student loans—I’ll leave that for another post). I had to delay pursuing my MFA a year, because my grad school of choice never received my undergraduate transcript. Then I delayed grad school a second time, since I did something crazy—fell in love—and decided to tell the first grad school, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
All of these experiences relate to school, but there have been other long periods of waiting. Waiting to see if my father would come home from the hospital when he fell ill. Waiting to see if my mother would come take me to live with her, as she so often promised. While these instances didn’t end in the ways I hoped, I also learned much about myself along the waiting.
Right now, we’re deep into the season of Advent at my church. For the past two years, I’ve been the Altar Guild Coordinator for our small congregation. I set up communion weekly, change the colors of the paraments and decorations in the sanctuary, based on where we are in the church year (for Advent, the color is blue, although some churches still use the older, traditional color of purple), and, in general, make sure that everyone can come into the church and worship in a welcoming, clean environment. The Christmas season is my busiest time as Altar Guild Coordinator. I have a page-long task list that I check daily, wanting everything to be perfect for our Christmas Eve candlelight services.
My first year as Altar Guild Coordinator, after some research, I decided that, unlike in previous years, the trees and other decorations wouldn’t go up until Christmas Eve. This led to both confusion and anger, and I spent a lot of time defending my decisions. Most of the conversations went something like this:
“Why aren’t the Christmas trees up yet?”
Me: “It’s Advent, not Christmas, and we have Christmas trees, not Advent trees. Just because everyone else puts their trees up right after Thanksgiving doesn’t mean that we have to. Advent is about building up to Christ’s birth, so we have something to anticipate.”
“But the trees have always gone up right after Thanksgiving.”
And on it went.
I cried. I doubted myself. I prayed for wisdom. Was I doing the right thing? After all, what did it matter to me if the trees went up before Christmas Eve?
That first Christmas was difficult for me, and I thought about resigning almost every day. But I didn’t, and last year I understood why.
In preparation for Christmas Eve service, I spent most of December 23rd at church by myself, setting up and decorating. By the time I finished, I was exhausted, and didn’t look forward to the next two days, which would bring even more work. When I put the last poinsettia in place, I plugged in the lights on the Christmas trees. Shuffling back to the last pew in the sanctuary, I flopped into it with a sigh. Then I looked up.
The warm glow of the lights, their white brilliance radiating, illuminating the altar and the wooden cross hanging over it, brought tears to my eyes. I had spent two Christmas seasons arguing, pleading, and negotiating with my brothers and sisters in Christ, trying to get them to understand that I wasn’t “doing what we always did” out of a place of rebellion or lack of cooperation, but out of a sense of duty to what I felt called to do.
And now, after those two years, I received the fruit of my labor: the blessing of knowing that He—my Lord and Savior—is worth the wait.
Like Elizabeth Bishop and losing in her poem “One Art,” I’m learning that the art of waiting isn’t hard to master.