Waiting hurts. It takes a certain strength of character to wait and assume the painful cost of sitting on the sidelines or letting another go first. Even the word patient comes from latin and greek words that means ‘one who suffers’ or ‘I am suffering.’ So if you are a medical ‘patient’ waiting ‘patiently’ for care or relief from pain, you are suffering. This season of Covid-19 lockdowns is full of patient suffering for many. We are patients hoping for relief.
In our home we have chocolate Advent calendar on our kitchen counter and every morning our girls open a little cardboard door and pull out a small chocolate. Advent is a season in the Christian calendar that celebrates a time of waiting in the weeks leading up until Christmas. We reflect on what it means to be patient, or to suffer, as we wait. The ongoing daily practice of opening a door feels a bit painful because, right there in the middle, is one big door. My daughters really want to open the big door because they know that there is a big surprise hidden inside. It is a count down to the Big Day. Christmas offers, for them, a promise of something special and the chocolate is a reminder of the hard work of waiting. Patience is pivotal to the best stories and when they are built into our traditions, our spiritual practices, and even into our neighbourhood relationships, these stories become transformative.
When my wife and I were expecting our second baby, so were a number of other families in our neighbourhood. Two mothers were due right around Christmas, and the sense of hopeful waiting was even more meaningful for them. With sore backs and a definite readiness to be done with the pregnancy, they were a present reminder that after the waiting, after all the patience, the story takes a turn. Very soon we were all holding new babies and we all took part in the celebration. It is fitting that the season of Advent, and the very story of Christmas, is centred around a pregnancy – and a longing – for something long awaited. It is this kind of patience, warm light in the midst of dark cold, that is woven into the very best stories.
Becoming patient people means that we anticipate and lean-into our time of waiting. Impatience is the opposite. Impatient people run away from the waiting, they do not anticipate that anything good will come of it. They believe that real goodness is found somewhere else, with someone beyond them, and in other ways. Henri Nouwen says that for impatient people the moment is empty. But patient people wait right where they are, watching, hoping, and anticipating that the morning will come. Patience fills our moments.
A waiting, suffering person a patient patient. The bleak and dark days of winter are here and the warmth of daylight and the fresh spring air feels like it is too far off. December 21st, the shortest day of the year, is especially dark for us here in Alberta. If there is any day that represents waiting, it is this dark day – a day with about eight fewer hours of daylight than in June. But I have to remember: the moment is not empty. Even in lockdown and under the weight of restrictions that make this hard season even more challenging, I can believe that something good is at work as I wait. I am learning that patience is not scandalous or frightening, it is an active moment when my story is nudged tenderly into the next beautiful turn.