People say Advent is all about waiting; what happens when Advent is over and you’re still waiting?

Of course, the Sunday school answer to that question is, “we’re all still waiting!” We’re all still waiting for the return of Jesus to this world to make all things right. We live in that sticky “already but not yet” timeline of the Christian world history. And while I profess to believe that’s true, I recognize that the whole idea feels kind of unreal and is hard to conceptualize.

For example, I don’t know about you, but I can’t even imagine a world without weeping or mourning, so it’s difficult to eagerly anticipate that kind of future (cue MercyMe’s “I can only imagine”). It’s much, much easier to eagerly anticipate something that feels so real you can almost taste it, but it’s just far enough away to keep evading your grasp. You’re waiting for an answer. Longing for something good.

So no, I’m not talking about the big picture and waiting on Jesus to return. Because talking about it like that doesn’t make sense to me right now. I’m talking about the day-to-day stuff in our lives. Waiting for a painful season of your life to be over. Waiting to successfully land a job. Waiting for a potentially scary diagnosis. Waiting to get married. Waiting for a revelation. Waiting to get pregnant. The worst is not knowing whether you’ll even get what you’re waiting for, ever. That kind of waiting makes more sense to me right now.

I’ve heard people who are wiser than me say that it’s a waste to wait your whole life away (actually, I don’t know if that’s how the saying goes, but you get the idea). If you’re always waiting until the next “thing,” whatever it is, what does that mean about the present? Does now not matter? Is now for nothing? Sorry, I know I’m veering dangerously close to motivational speech, but I’m talking to myself as much as I’m talking to anyone else who happens to be reading this. Because I definitely don’t live-every-day-to-the-fullest. Even if I did, I think that’s kind of missing the point. Because living in the present and knowing that today matters doesn’t necessarily make waiting or longing for something any easier. We can’t just ignore that discomfort. It doesn’t really work.

I’ve started to realize that rationalizing the discomfort away doesn’t really work either, but I still try. I acknowledge that some things are just out of my control. I don’t make the world spin. Who am I to get demanding about what I want and when? I start to believe I don’t really have a right to be upset, and if I’m waiting or longing for something that’s mostly out of my control, I know that it “won’t help” to be upset about it. The only problem is—I am upset about it—even if I try to deny it.

So what do you do with this longing, being upset about it, telling yourself all the reasons you shouldn’t be upset, but still being upset anyway, and then, if you’re like me, maybe even being upset with yourself for being upset?

I don’t have the answers, but I do know looking to the past can help, sometimes, if I’m in the right mood… I recall times when the waiting was agonizing—months when I was unemployed, years when dating my now-husband seemed to drag on aimlessly. I had so many questions, hopes, and fears during those times. Having hindsight perspective, I see how things worked out better than I could have planned, and I’m thankful (guess I’m in the right mood). God did not abandon me. There was purpose in the waiting. Looking back, I see that those seasons were periods of intense growth, and I recall how my dear oldest sister has told me before that seasons of growth are often uncomfortable. And well, I’m pretty uncomfortable right now, so I hope that means I’m growing.

Unfortunately, remembering isn’t a cure-all. Remembering doesn’t speed up or take away your current waiting process. And while I hope everyone can remember a time in their life when a season of waiting led to something good, I don’t want to assume that’s the case for all. Either way, remembering can also help us recognize and avoid past patterns of behavior that haven’t been good for us. There’s a lot to learn from our past.

Now that I’ve taken a hefty detour from longing for the future to diving into the past, I hope that brings us back to the present. Whatever I’m waiting for, I hope I can still acknowledge when I’m upset and find some peace and comfort in the discomfort (without getting stuck in the past or wishing my life away.) There’s so much to do and learn and be right now.

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