Written by Amber Crafton
Edited by Janet Kibler
I love Advent, but the 2017 season was especially meaningful. I experienced a fresh intimacy with God as I worked through readings from IF:Equip, an online discipleship resource, that touched on various encounters people had with Jesus while He walked the earth. I was especially convicted when one of the contributors suggested that Advent is really about the labor of waiting and God’s faithfulness in it, but because waiting is hard and often painful, we gloss over it, focusing instead on the joy of the celebration and missing out on the gifts found only in the waiting. I instantly nodded to myself in agreement, but spent the following two weeks ruminating on that idea, wondering if I was subconsciously trying to skip the waiting God might be asking of me, thereby missing out on gifts from Him that could only be unwrapped in the waiting spaces.
That idea haunted me, and the more I meditated on it, the more sense it made. After all, waiting is such a prolific theme in the Bible and a fundamental part of the human experience—one I prefer to avoid whenever possible! I felt God impressing on my heart that I needed to slow down, discover the waiting spaces that exist in my life right now, and press into them rather than try to avoid or ignore them, and in that way observe my own year of Advent, waiting for Him to come.
I spent the first couple of weeks this year figuring out what that would look like. After all, there are tons of resources for observing the Christmas Advent season but none for a year-long observance. I decided to start by reading the book Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent by Enuma Okoro. It focuses on Zechariah and Elizabeth and considers themes like waiting individually and in community, the grief of unanswered prayer, and what it looks like to be faithful in the midst of prolonged waiting.
The book arrived around the middle of January, and I dove in . . . right around the time I dove headlong into a cancer scare, financial setbacks, and unexpected emotional backlash related to childhood trauma that was triggered by the medical tests. My original plan had been to follow the book’s structure and spend four consecutive weeks reading through it, but I was struggling just to get through my days emotionally intact, so it felt like a monumental feat to read just one day’s reading per week. Praise God, I do not have cancer! But on the other side of those horrific two weeks, I found myself drowning emotionally and feeling discouraged over my inability to follow through on this Advent experiment.
It took me four weeks to get through just one week of that book! But I told myself I could still make it work, since I would finish week one just in time for Lent, at which point I planned to begin a Lenten study through Exodus. The timing seemed providential; after all, there’s a lot of waiting that happens in the book of Exodus and a lot of waiting and vigil implicit in Lent. So that would keep me perfectly in step with what God had set before me. I could pick back up with the Advent book after Lent was over and take my time finishing it. Course correction accepted, and problem solved!
Except . . . I’m a nanny working for three families, and the night before the Lent study began, I got a text informing me one of the kids was sick and asking me to work full days until he recovered. He was sick all week. Once again I found myself stumbling through my days, just trying to keep up with regular life and a higher-than-usual time demand from one family or another that has continued ever since.
I never did begin that study, and now Easter is upon us and I feel like an utter failure. Don’t get me wrong; my observance of Lent is completely voluntary, and no one is heaping shame on my head. But I love Lent and believe in its purpose and effect, so I feel like I’m failing myself in a season when I am most in need of its benefits.
In my grief over the loss of that Lenten richness, I find myself thinking back to past observances, and the one that impacted me the most is from Holy Week 2016. That year She Reads Truth, another online Bible study resource, did a “Holy Week in Real Time” series in which the daily readings followed Jesus’ activities each day of his final week. It was a profound experience to meditate on His activities, conversations, and interactions leading up to His death. He took His time walking through that week, and I don’t blame Him! I imagine He was savoring the time He had left, but also dreading where He was headed.
What impacted me the most was the experience of the disciples the day after Jesus was killed. They had started the week on a high, entering Jerusalem with their Lord to the cheers and jubilation of the crowds that hailed Him as the long-awaited Messiah. They ended the week watching their Hope suffer an unjust trial, brutal beatings, humiliations untold, and a horrific, public execution.
The next day, they sat in a room together, stunned, frightened, and confused. Trying to wrap their heads around what happened. Wondering what now. Waiting.
While I can’t fathom what that was like for them—what it must have felt like to be alive on this earth during the two days when the Son of God was actually, truly dead—I still resonate with those moments on some level. I came into this year expectant and hopeful, excited even, and right now I feel like that has all been ripped away from me in a whirlwind of trauma, frenzy, and chaos that blew in and blew out before I could process that something was even amiss. And I feel powerless to do anything about it. Except wait.
Psalm 40 has been especially comforting to me in this season:
I waited patiently for the Lᴏʀᴅ,
And He turned to me and heard my cry for help.
He brought me up from a desolate pit,
out of the muddy clay,
and set my feet on a rock.
making my steps secure. (vv. 1-2)
I think of those disciples, waiting in the desolate pit of their grief, fear, and confusion, crying out to Yahweh for help. And then suddenly Jesus showed up. Flesh and bone. In a garden. In the room. On the road. By the seashore. He showed up, and He kept showing up. And every time, He kept saying, “Don’t you remember what I told you about all this? Weren’t you listening?”
And He is showing up for me too. In these Easter-predicting verses. In a reverberating whisper.
[I] do not delight in sacrifice and offering;
[I] open [your] ears to listen.
[I] do not ask for a whole burnt offering or a sin offering.
See I have come. (vv. 6-7)
I hear Him gently saying, Don’t you remember what I told you? Are you trying to sacrifice, or are you listening?
And I respond.
Lᴏʀᴅ do not withhold Your compassion from me;
Your constant love and truth will always guard me.
For troubles without number have surrounded me;
My sins have overtaken me; I am unable to see.
They are more than the hairs of my head,
And my courage leaves me.
Lᴏʀᴅ, be pleased to deliver me;
Hurry to help me, Lᴏʀᴅ. (vv. 11-13)
Lord, please open my ears to listen.
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