Waiting can seem so passive. What is a waiting room for but sitting impatiently, staring at the clock, flipping idly through a magazine, wondering when your turn will come?
And yet we all know that times of waiting quickly fill up with lots of activity.
We wait for Christmas or birthdays to arrive with all the shopping, planning, cooking and decorating that accompany celebrations. We wait for news of a loved one’s safe travels or successful surgery by busying ourselves around the house till the phone rings. We even fill our time waiting for the train/plane/bus to arrive or the light to turn green by checking our phone or flipping through our ipod. Waiting can be active and busy as well.
Waiting for a baby to arrive is no exception. Every day I busy about my life and wonder when the time will come. But I can’t wait passively. There is work to complete. There is a toddler to feed and amuse. There is a house to keep clean. My waiting is full of work and activity.
Living in a constant state of waiting leads my theologian mind to drift to the waiting we all do (or should be doing) as Christians: waiting for Christ to return. Because that is what this whole life is ultimately about, n’est-ce pas? Preparing ourselves to be ready when that final day comes, knowing we will be held accountable for the lives we led and the people we became in the process.
But honestly, who really thinks about Christ’s second coming or the day of judgment all that often? Not many people in the circles I run in. Sure, we have those couple of weeks during Advent when we’re supposed to be preparing for the second coming of Christ at the end of time, not just awaiting the arrival of the sweet babe in the manger. And Lent is supposed to keep us mindful that we are not made for this life, but something more, something coming, something not-yet.
We know this as Christians, right? But rare is the person who actually thinks about the possibility that this very day, Christ could come back again. It almost seems an eye-rolling notion. We mock the sects and the crazies who predict the end of days with such certainty that atheists are left to laugh when tomorrow rolls around.
But spending my days (and restless nights) in a constant state of waiting reminds me that perhaps I should give more thought to this other kind of Waiting. If today were That Day and That Hour, would I be found to be the kind of person I hoped I’d be? How would my life, my work, my flaws and faults be found wanting? And what would it mean to meet face-to-face this person, this God I claim to follow?
Thoughts terrifying enough to send me back to that nest of pillows I call a pregnancy bed. But in small ways, the unknownness, the fear and the wonder of meeting my baby evoke some of the same feelings. What will it be like to meet this new person face-to-face? How will my mothering – with all its flaws and faults, its hopes and dreams – be found wanting? Can I rise to the occasion and be the parent this child will ask me to be?
Waiting is a time of “already-and-not-yet.” We live partly in the future and partly in the present. And it’s hard to live our lives any other way. But if we get too wrapped up in the busyness of preparing, of filling every spare minute so we don’t have time to think about the daunting possibilities of what lies ahead, then we can miss the beauty of what it means to wait.
Namely, that we are always people on-the-way, people who are becoming. That there is always something new before us, something strange and wonderful and unpredictable, something that will challenge us, something that invites us to become more fully the people we are called to be.
So perhaps this is my own call to stay awake, to keep watch amidst the waiting. To try and slow down while my body fuels the hormone-driven need to cook and clean and cajole this whole household (as well as my own heart) into readiness for a new arrival. Because there is no telling what this day, this hour will bring – for any of us. A truth of equal parts delight and terror, but the waiting we’re called to, nonetheless.