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During an Advent in which each day has felt weighted with a to-do list much, much longer than Santa’s naughty and nice list, I feel very grateful to have been drawn to explore the phrase “expectant waiting” that is part of many definitions of this Christian liturgical season.
Getting comfortable while waiting to be done
Whether or not the season Advent is part of your spiritual tradition as it is mine, its theme of “expectant waiting” has something to offer all who get caught up chasing the elusive goal of ever completing the list of things that need to get done. As someone who is rarely comfortable until I am “done” it has been supremely helpful to the state of my spirit to begin to flirt with the okay-ness of allowing myself to be undone.
The word “undone” means exactly what it seems to mean – to not be finished or completed. In a figurative sense it can also mean to lose one’s composure or self-control. It’s a little ironic then that this Advent has left me feeling figuratively undone because of my exhausting attempts to get everything (and I do mean everything) done.
As a girl (and, truthfully, still today) the beauty and wonder of the stories of Christmas had the power to leave me undone – emotional, touched deeply, often to the point of tears. This year, when I listen to these familiar stories, the message I hear is one that embraces the undone, the unfolding, and the idea that life is to be savored as we make our way one step at a time toward our destinations. In a sense, these stories have been telling me that doneness is an artificial construct. Life is never done. We live in a world that is and ever will be in process.
Even the most momentous moments are not “done”
It is the very undone-ness of life that invites us to live in the state of “expectant waiting.” Mary uttered her courageous, life- and history-making “yes” to God and then spent 9 months “expectantly waiting” – living her life, visiting her cousin, navigating the societal hostility toward an unwed woman with child, not to mention the complication of sorting things out with her betrothed. Life went on, in other words, despite the miraculous divine “hiccup” of agreeing to bear the child of God.
God chose to live among us as one of us and was born — as a newborn child. God then spent 30 years (perhaps a blip in God’s time, but almost a lifetime in people time) “expectantly waiting” – living the very human life of a baby, toddler, child, adolescent, and young adult. What did God do while God waited? It’s safe to say God wasn’t sitting around twiddling God’s thumbs. While we don’t have much recorded history to go on, God spent these decades gathering the life and spiritual experience needed to become a teacher for the ages.
At the same time, Mary’s “expectant waiting” continued – as it does for all parents. She spent these same thirty years in the incredibly active, and simultaneously exhausting and joyful state of undone-ness – waiting eagerly to see the person her child would become.
I imagine the same busy, productive waiting was true for the Magi. They “expectantly” traveled over stunning distances, following a star to see what they would find. But neither their journey nor their waiting ended at that stable. They paid their respects to the baby and continued their travels – going home by a different way.
I can only imagine how they “expectantly waited” and wondered at what kind of man this baby would become as they lived out the rest of their lives – perhaps continuing to study and chase answers to questions as huge and profound as the ones that set them upon their epic journey.
Expectant waiting is a way of surviving (and thriving) while being undone
Again and again, we are shown that Advent’s definition of waiting is very much a state of being undone that is also quite active and filled with life. Can you imagine how this could be true for you no matter what you might be waiting for? And even after what you’re waiting for has been announced as it was for Mary at the annunciation? Or even after it has happened as it was for God after the incarnation?
Granted, for you and me life is much less dramatic. We might be waiting for a new job or a visit from a long-distance friend. Perhaps we’re waiting for a diagnosis or a COVID-delayed wedding or memorial service. We could be awaiting Christmas Day or the potential-filled “reset button” of the beginning of a brand-new year.
Each of these scenarios requires us to be un-done. Not rendered figuratively undone, though that might be part of it, but to be okay – and even to thrive – in the state of not being finished or done. Like Mary, God, and the Magi, we are invited to live full, wonderful lives while we expectantly wait.
Being undone is, perhaps, the whole point of life
To me, when I read these Advent stories through the lens of expectant waiting, I discover the message that the un-done in life is the whole point. That which is undone holds potential, promise, and possibility. All of life that is yet to be lived is, after all, undone.
Therefore, my wishes this holiday season have shifted a bit. I wish you a very merry today, tomorrow, and all of your days come. I wish you (and myself) a happy 2022 infused with the brand-new notion (at least to me) that what is undone is filled with hope and potential. This could, indeed, be a way to live with peace on earth.