By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin
My first encounters with the Internet were accompanied by the long, screeching, wavering tone of dial-up. In those days, waiting for a webpage to load was not as inconvenient as it was miracle. To be so connected by the wonder of technology was worth the wait. Today, I feel impatience grow in me when I watch the spiraling icon on my desktop. This mode of communication is now commonplace, and I want it instantaneously.
The immediate has become a driving value in many cultures. If I want food faster, I can put it in the microwave. If I want that new iPhone but don’t have the money, I can put it on a credit card. The goal is maximum efficiency for a minimal amount of inconvenience in our lives. The underlying message we are receiving is: If you can’t have it now, it might not be worth having. (I wonder how this relates to the growing resistance in these same cultures to the life of faith.)
I would by lying if I said that I don’t indulge in immediate gratification. And it’s not all doom and gloom. Some expediency literally has life saving potential. For these advancements, I am grateful. In other ways, this value can be dehumanizing. As a society we tend to cast aside those who can’t keep up. Our incessant need for urgent convenience often comes at a cost to the planet, and the people in the systems producing this endless want.
How does this immediacy-value impact our state of heart as persons of faith? We are invited during this waiting season to slow down enough to examine every part of our life in God. When I recall times of impatient waiting, I notice that my first response is usually to search for distraction. If I am waiting in line, I will take out my phone and scan through emails or social media. I busy myself with other things to make the time go faster, to avoid the reality that I’m in.
What am I missing while keeping myself occupied with other things? Am I missing the opportunity to be present with the other people around me? Am I closing off the invitation of the Spirit to enter into life-giving conversation with a stranger? Am I ignoring ordinary life brimming over with holy significance amid the waiting time? Am I missing a chance to catch my breath and clear my mind instead of continuing to fill it? Is there some great insight or question emerging from my depths never given time enough in silence to surface? Is my evasion of what is before me revealing a deeper evasion of what is within me?
Advent is a waiting season. It reminds us that in the waiting is the forming of the new life we are waiting for. It calls for our full attention, and births anticipation within us. The anticipation is holy, even as it may produce discomfort or impatience. Don’t busy yourself with other things to distract from the restless hope arising within. Stay in it. Notice what it forms within you. It’s worth the wait.
Spiritual Practice: What is the state of your heart in waiting times? What would it look like in your life to be more attentive in the waiting? This week, create intentional space to be prayerfully attentive.