The Healthy Habit of Waiting

The Healthy Habit of Waiting

By Anthony Hoffman

It’s often true that good things come with a season of anticipation. Think of a couple in a season of engagement before the wedding. Or the nine months of waiting, preparing and excitement before the birth of a child. Even a musician practising for countless hours before a big performance.

Almost everywhere we look, a celebration or significant event is preceded by a time of preparation, study and practise mixed with feelings of excitement, longing and eager anticipation.

The same is true with this season we find ourselves in in preparation for Christmas. For centuries, this season of the year was called “Advent.” The definition of the word quite literally means “the arrival of a notable person, thing or event.”

Advent is often a perfect testament to how healthy waiting actually is for us. We live in an astoundingly impatient world, where even waiting for an elevator can be intolerable. So, we fill the space with another haphazard scroll.

We exist often with fragmented attentions—results of perpetual distraction. The psychology shows how this can rewire our neurology rendering it incapable of deep thought, relational intimacy and creative potential, let alone spiritual depth. We desperately need times of intentional focus, a sort of psychological housecleaning.

This is what Advent is for.

It’s easy to want Christmas to come now. To be here sooner, just ask the five-year-old counting sleeps until Santa comes. The waiting is excruciating! However, when seen with delightful anticipation, waiting almost seems to intensify the delight of what is desired once it is finally received. It also prepares us to be fully present, fully aware and fully primed in mind and heart for Christmas.

There is an old Latin maxim that says “Voluptates commendat rarior usus.” It means ‘rare indulgence produces greater pleasure.’

Imagine if every day was Christmas. Or if right after Halloween, there was one day to prepare, one day of Christmas and then into the new year. It would be pretty anticlimactic wouldn’t it? No Christmas lights slowly starting to pop up one by one down your street. No time of preparing meal plans, decorating the home, baking goodies, meeting with friends. Advent is almost necessary to create the actual magic of Christmas.

St Augustine says that we often don’t get what we want when we want it because God is using time to pull us out of the cramped space of ego, allowing our hearts to expand in order to receive the magnitude of His gifts and truth. Just like kids waiting for Christmas.

At Fort McMurray Catholic Schools we’ve been featuring on social media the ‘Advent Messages of Hope’ from our students. Our students are pondering not only the destination but an attitude of journeying. The waiting, preparing, wondering, wanting. They travel like the wise men from far away, towards something spectacular.

We immerse ourselves in the deep tones of ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel’ an advent chant that echoes that longing, that anticipation for the ‘arrival of a notable person, thing or event.’

The first week of Advent, our staff and students light the first purple candle on an advent wreath and are encouraged to focus on what ‘Hope’ means. The virtue of Hope actually requires a sense of waiting, of anticipation. What hope would it give our lives if the Intelligence that made the universe became human?

The wreath itself that we place our candles on is made from evergreens and signifies perpetual life. The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning or end symbolizes the eternity of God and the immortality of the soul.

The second week of Advent, another purple candle is illuminated, and we ponder faith. Probably the most misunderstood word in the religious language. Not superstition, incredulity or blind acceptance. Faith is the rational ascent to realities higher than our own small pitch of existence.

Next comes my favourite, the sole pink candle on the wreath is a celebration of Joy. Not happiness, or good feelings, but a true, deep sense in our hearts of right alignment. Joy comes from being fully known, fully loved, and pondering what the Incarnation means for our lives.

Finally, on the Sunday before Christmas we light one more purple candle and meditate on Peace. Are we agents of peace in our lives? Or do we gossip and hold grudges? Do we live peacefully, or are we stuck in the continual comparison of ourselves with others?

Advent is a season to let all that go. We have the perfect intelligence of the cosmos becoming human. We’re encountering perfect human virtue and unfathomable love. Let’s prepare our hearts, not just our living rooms for this encounter. Merry Christmas from Fort McMurray Catholic Schools!

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