Monday, December 24, 2012

open-ended waiting

Every Advent season, I ask for a new glimpse into The Story. A new dynamic or aspect I've glossed over in years before. For the years I've asked, He always has.

This year, it was about hoping and waiting open-endedly. I read from my Advent Devotional how Mary, hoped rather than wished. And how different a story God wrote in she, and other characters of The Story, lives because they did not cling to what they expected and wished, but rather hoped in the Lord.

I've thought about my own heart and life. Particularly in the area of singleness To be honest, it's something I feel a little uncomfortable writing about. I usually don't write about singleness, for fear of appearing desperate and/or frustrated. And, in my humble opinion, there are few things as odious as being a frustrated and/or desperate old maid. (If you must be an old maid, than be a chipper one, by golly.) But this has to do with my "Christmas lesson", so I think it's okay to share this time.

I have been through many seasons of life where I have thoroughly enjoyed being single. And then, there have been some seasons where I have thoroughly not enjoyed being single.

I think back to a time over the summer when my older sister, 30 now, and I, 27, had been to a wedding of a couple who were both a lot younger than us. We sat at a booth in Chick-fil-A, grabbing a quick bite before dashing off to another event to meet a married friend who was also younger than us. To be perfectly honest, we were what King David might have called, "cast down" and "disquieted" in our souls. We comforted our hearts with a morsel of Chick-Fil-A.. or at least we tried to.

I sat across the booth from my sister and told her with tongue in cheek gloom, "I don't like you that much.. not enough to spend the rest of my life with you,"as I shook pepper over my waffle fries, a little too furiously. "I know... I don't like you that much either," she replied. I nodded in agreement We continued to discuss all the ways that it was difficult being single and the fear of being two old spinster sisters who walked around mothering their cats in their old age.

Most of our friends are married; many of them are having children now. We still feel frozen in time sometimes. We, the two girls who were always outspoken about the importance of being a wife and mother, who didn't plan for big long-term careers outside the home, who have always been frank about wanting to be a homemaker some day. We are a two of the few left, out of all our friends, who are still single. Life can be ironic.

Then, some time before Thanksgiving, I decided it was again time to cultivate an attitude of gratitude about my "gift" of singleness. Not a "pollyannaish" sort of worked up happiness (although I think there's a place for that), but a genuine gratefulness.

So, I thought about how Paul said, in essence, that you're asking for trouble if you want to get married (and judging from the "in-law/out-law" stories of some of my friends, I'd hvae to say it's rather true). How singleness is a gift, and God doesn't give bad gifts.

In my advent devotional, I read about how Mary hoped in the Lord, rather than "wished in the Lord." To wish is to set your sight on something specific... open-ended hoping is to wait with open hands for whatever the Father sends our way. (I copied experts from this devotional below, because he says it much better than I can)

I thought about my wishes for a home and family of my own one day... I thought about how maybe the Lord might use my love for children and home in some other way. Some way different than I wished. Being single doesn't mean that children can never be cared for and loved. It doesn't mean that you can't have a family. It just might look different.

So it is that open ended hoping requires a certain amount of dying. Dying to wishes... plans and ideas that we had for ourselves.

But when I decide to stop wishing and start hoping, then comes the joy and peace of a future unknown, but yet planned. Then, I can say "Thank You," honestly. God gives good gifts, although different, but better, than we would pick for ourselves.

What if Mary had clung so tightly to her idea of how her life would go? Surely she never imagined that her wedding would be surrounded by the whispers of scandal. Surely she never imagined having her baby next to barn animals, or escaping to Egypt, or seeing her Son put to death on a cross. If her life attitude would have been one of a stiff neck and clinging hands, she wouldn't have been able to say, "behold, the handmaiden of the Lord, be it unto me according to Your word." That first "Yes." of Mary's, surely turned the tide of her life from something "nice and normal" to the wild and unexpected, but yet she was the one who received the Light of Christ first.

If I cling tightly to my ideas of how my life should go, I won't be able to say, "be it unto me according to your word", and I will be clinging so tightly to my wishes that my hands will not be open to receive the gifts He wants to give.

I don't know what my future will look like. But it matters less now than it did a few months ago... because with God's grace I am striving to stop the wishing, and live in open-handed, open-ended waiting on the Lord. God gives buckets of grace for that.

So here's to a Christmas of receiving Christ in our innermost... here's to a new year full of open ended hoping and receiving the unexpected.

And here's portions of the devotional that made me think... I really can't recommend this Advent devotional enough; every year it quiets and prepares my heart to keep waiting and watching for His second arrival, and strikes wonder anew at the miracle of His first coming.

From Watch For The Light; Reading for the Advent and Christmas, pages 32 - 34

"A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere. The moment is empty. But patient people dare to stay where they are. Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there. Waiting then, is not passive. It involves nurturing the moment, as mother nurtures he child that is growing in her. Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary were very present to the moment. That is why they could hear the angel. They were alert, attentive to the voice that spoke to them and said, "Don't be afraid. Something is happening to you. Pay attention." 
"But there is more. Waiting is open-ended. Open-ended waiting is hard for us because we tend to wait for something very concrete, for something that we wish to have. Much of our waiting is filled with wishes: I wish that I would have a job. I wish that the weather would be better. I wish that the pain would go." We are full of wishes, and our waiting easily gets entangled in those wishes. For this reason, a lot of our waiting is not open-ended. Instead, our waiting is a way of controlling the future. We want the future to go in a very specific direction, and if this does not happen we are disappointed and can even slip int despair. That is why we have such a hard time waiting: we want to do the things that will make the desires events take place. Here we can see how wishes tend to be connected with fears.  
"But Zachariah, Elizabeth and Mary were not filled wishes. They were filled with hope. Hope is something very different Hope is trusting that something will be fulfilled, but fulfilled according to the promises and not just according to our wishes. Therefore, hope is always open-ended.  
"I have found it very important in my own life to let go of my wishes and start hoping. It was only when I was willing to let go of wishes that something really new, something beyond my own expectations could happen to me. Just imagine what Mary was actually saying in the words, "I am the handmaid of the life... let what you have said be done to me" (Luke 1: 38). She was saying, "I don't know what this all means, but I trust that good things will happen." She trusted so deeply that her waiting was open to all possibilities. And she did not want to control them. She believed that when she listened carefully, she could trust what was going to happen.  
"To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life... So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God molds us according to God's love and not according to our fear. The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination fantasy, or prediction That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control."
Me and "EDNA", wishing you a merry CHRISTMAS,
and proving that despite what we say when we're gloomy, we really do enjoy being together quite a lot.  ;)  

1 comment:

Ryan said...

There is a line from T. S. Eliot's "Four Quartets:"

"...Wait without hope,
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the hope and the love are all in the waiting."

I didn't understand that line at first. Eliot is notoriously cryptic. It took me a while to realize that he was speaking about this open ended waiting.

Brother Steindl-Rast wrote a book called, "Gratefulness: the heart of prayer." In it he speaks of the difference between "hopes" and "Hope." Hopes are specific wishes for things that might or might not happen. When these hopes are disappointed the person of "hopes" is disappointed and gives up. Hope is a trust that God's will is both perfect and sovereign, and that He is in control. It is an honest understanding that although He is All powerful, all-good and all-loving, His love and goodness may look very different from what we expect it to look like.

We just know that it is good.