Learning to Wait Is a Spiritual Discipline

By Linda Hart Green

In the golden light of an early summer evening, I swished my crinoline petticoat pacing back and forth on the deck behind my grandparents’ home. I was 6 years old, dressed to the nines and I was impatient. My great-grandmother was keeping her eye on me. She was vital in her mid-80s and was my babysitter.

We were going to the boardwalk in Wildwood, New Jersey that evening. I loved everything about the boardwalk. There were lots of lights, the hum of the crowd and the whoosh of the roller coaster as it zoomed by. The scent of roasting peanuts wafted over as you passed the Planters Peanuts store with a big Mr.Peanut rotating outside. Games of chance tempted you to try to win a stuffed animal. There were rides for little kids and big kids. After the rides, we would stop at Carvel for a freshly made frozen custard. If you have never been to or seen pictures of the boardwalk in Wildwood, it is wide and long, as is the beach. I couldn’t wait to get there. The rest of my family wasn’t yet ready. My grandmother wasn’t going with us. “Too much honky tonk,” was her descriptor.

My great-grandmother sat calmly as I flounced back and forth in front of her. She was physically very small but she had an outsized impact on my young life. She looked up at me and said, “Dearie, waitin’s good sometimes.” I stopped in my tracks. What in the world could that mean? For once, I had nothing to say. I have been wondering what she meant for most of my life.

Today is the beginning of Advent for Christian churches who follow the liturgical tradition of the calendar. Advent is a time of waiting, hoping and watching for the mysterious reversal of the divine entering the human sphere. We aren’t good at waiting. Even in the church. When I was a new associate pastor, I had the idea that our services would be solemn and introspective during Advent. I was resoundingly outvoted. I drew the line at singing “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come” until Christmas Eve.

The Thanksgiving leftovers are still in the fridge and BAM! It ‘s Christmas everywhere. My favorite meme about the bulldozing of Thanksgiving is “Stay in your lane, fat boy! Good things come to those who wait,” the saying goes. Unfortunately we have lost the ability to pay attention and be patient. The signs of this cultural trend are everywhere, even in our own homes.

Like me, you have probably watched the news as the families of hostages wait for their loved ones to be released. Even the eyes of the youngest are glued to the screen or to the back of a van. I can’t imagine the tingling agony, hope, fear and frustration of that kind of waiting. They wait relentlessly, focused, spending every bit of the energy flowing through their tense muscles on the trust that their loved ones would return to them. When release comes, the joy and relief are palpable as tears flow.

A message of hope for those who wait is written in the words of the prophet Isaiah, who spoke to people who also were captive, exiled from their homeland. “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.” (Isaiah 40:37) This kind of waiting means believing “as if.”

We align our thoughts and actions to the conviction that hope and trust are not in vain, even when current circumstances are not favorable, even dire. No instant gratification. No Christmas before Advent. No release before captivity.

Yes, my dream of a perfect summer evening on the boardwalk with my family came true, many times over. That boardwalk now is shoddy.  That house is no longer in our family. My great grandmother died at age 93 when I was a teenager. I look back and wish I had crawled into her lap and asked, “Will you tell me what you mean about waiting?” If you are given the opportunity to learn why “waitin’s good sometimes,” try not to miss  it.

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Mark Tomes
Noble Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
2 months ago

Thank you, Linda, for your wise words and a great story. I can’t wait to read your next article! Oh, yeah, I can.