Most of my life, I have waited gracelessly.
Yes, I’m one of those people who used the story of Jesus turning over tables in the temple to justify my own self-righteous impatience, so sure that others were wrong and I was right. That my timing was perfect, my perspective unlimited, my knowledge flawless. And I approached God this way.
(Who am I kidding? I still do.)
Despite those early-born, deep-seated, and occasionally-persisting tendencies, I am changing. I am learning that I don’t have a monopoly on rightness. I’m learning that others can have different opinions than I do and not be wrong, or utterly dismissible. I’m learning that maybe–just maybe–there is a plan and timing beyond and above my own that supersedes mine and yet includes me. This idea has transformed from an offense, to a threat, to–lately–a freeing truth.
I haven’t reached that truth in a vacuum. The asks of marriage and parenthood–more like demands, really–have exacted a price. And that price has turned out to be freedom from the tyranny of misplaced trust, of misguided conceptions, and of myself.
I think a lot about waiting this time of year. I waited thirty-three years to get married–a criminal offense in some parts of the South, where I live–and thirty-four to become a mother. I brought into the institutions of marriage and parenthood certain expectations, and an agenda a mile long. I knew how it all should work: how my husband and I would communicate and divide the labor, how my children would behave and be disciplined.
[Pause for laughter.]
Needless to say, that plan didn’t work out. How could it? Love, and marriage, and parenthood, are so much bigger than what I had outlined and made room for in my heart and life. As that truth sank in–embedded more deeply by my family members’ uniquenesses and design–I began to realize that the same was true of grace. Of the love of God.
One only needs a cursory read-through of the Bible’s narrative to see that God often loves his people right through their own destruction, and then into their proper rebuilding. To be favored by God? Ask Mary how that felt. Sure, she gave birth to the Person who split time in two, but when she got the news this would be happening, she was an unmarried teenager who, to put it mildly, was “greatly troubled” (Luke 4:29).
In this season of advent–of waiting for something that has already happened, while remaining expectant about what will one day be–it’s easy to get lost in the tendency to rush. To be impatient, whether it’s with traffic or my children. Too often I am not suffused with grace; I barely feel like I’ve got my big toe in it. And yet…I feel myself able to wait more gracefully this time of year. I feel anxiety dissipate more quickly, and my temper shortages seem to be in lower supply. There is an edge of promise that gilds this month, a sense of magic and joy that undergirds each day and ushers in each twinkling night.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a darkness that pervaded a waiting world, a nine-month walk of faith through loneliness for a teenage girl, a stain on her and her husband-to-be’s reputations, a doubtful arrival into questionable conditions. Not exactly the Pinterest party of dreams, and not the kind of king who was expected. But the good news that arrived in a muddy trough, in the midst of a nowhere place and our biggest messes, is that rebirths happen all the time. The Gospel is about death leading to life, light coming from darkest night. There is no such thing as hopeless anymore. What would my life look like if I lived in the hope of Advent into January and beyond? Knowing that what we are waiting for has already, in large part, taken place–the birth of a Savior, his death and resurrection that save us–frees me to wait not on an event, but within a promise. And this is a joyful, freeing place to be.
Also, it has lights.
The secret of Christmas, of grace and the Gospel, is that waiting is never for naught. The season is called advent for what is to come, but also what has already happened: an arrival that transforms dank stables and dark nights and right now into holy ground.