An Advent Reflection from Jeff Greenman
This fall, about a week before undergoing heart surgery, President Jeff Greenman wrote a brief reflection on the theme of waiting. Jeff is now recovering nicely, but he offers these words from the midst of his long autumn wait as a meditation for the season of Advent.
I have been reflecting on a statement by French philosopher Simone Weil: “Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.”
As I write this, I’m waiting for a major medical procedure. I didn’t think I’d have to wait quite this long: my surgery was scheduled for late August, but then delayed until mid-October. The delay has created an unsettling intermediate period full of uncertainty. I’ve wanted to get on with my life, not wait for someone else’s schedule. I’ve learned that patients need an extra measure of patience.
And yet, we all need patience, don’t we? In the season of Advent, we find ourselves in the uncomfortable situation of being asked to focus on waiting for the Lord’s coming. But waiting is hard. It is strange and unnatural to us. Our impulse is to pursue speed and immediate gratification. More and more in today’s world, we expect instant communication, instant answers, and instant relief from every discomfort. We want to control the outcomes of our lives, taking charge of every situation we face. All of this makes it harder and harder to wait—harder to wait for anything, material or spiritual.
This is why the invitation to wait during the season of Advent can be so valuable for us. We need to be reoriented in our approach to time in order to learn deeper lessons. We need to learn how to wait, because it means relinquishing control over our lives and our circumstances, and waiting on God. I’ve had to learn a lot about waiting lately, and while the medical delay has been unwelcome and sometimes frustrating, it has also been a period of blessing, during which God provided a series of unexpected gifts.
Primarily, I’ve been learning that waiting is about truly putting our focus on God and waiting on him. Waiting on God and waiting for events are quite different things. I have realized again, in a deeper way, the priority of spending time drawing near to God, yearning for personal communion with Jesus … instead of focusing on outcomes related to specific events—like surgical dates. By God’s grace, this hiatus has given me the gift of time to live into the Psalmist’s prayer: “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water” (Ps. 63:1).
Throughout this time, I have been challenged and encouraged by Weil’s perspective. Waiting itself is hard enough, but waiting patiently is even harder—but also most to be valued. Weil reminds us that, in spiritual terms, patience is not passive but active. It is more than just enduring the passage of time. Patience involves looking attentively in the right direction, scanning the horizon for a glimpse of God’s action. This kind of patient attentiveness is a sort of spiritual discipline, and it requires a humility of heart that risks radical trust in God.
This is the kind of patience we are called to at Advent. It’s the kind of patience exemplified in the stories we tell this time of year: the obedient patience of Mary and Joseph, the yearning patience of Anna and Simeon, the seeking patience of the magi. It is a committed attitude of future expectation, which means it is founded firmly on hope.
Hope lies beyond us. It comes to us from outside ourselves, and ultimately it comes from God’s good hand upon us. Waiting patiently means hoping in what God assuredly will do, according to his promises for us in Jesus Christ. In this sense, then, waiting patiently in hope truly is the foundation of the spiritual life.
Whatever shape your waiting takes this Advent season, may you find great encouragement in the source of our hope—the God who ends his people’s waiting by coming to them himself.
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