Early last November on a Wednesday night, I stopped into Ellis Hall during dinner to speak to our College Minister, Rob about the Fall Retreat that we were about to take with the students. Before I could make it to Rob, his son McLendon came up to me and said in a whisper, like a little 5-year-old drug dealer, “Ya got something for me?
“Something cool? Maybe a big Spiderman.”
“Well, I don’t have a big Spiderman, buddy.”
“I want a Venom costume. Could you get me a Venom costume? You know, from Spiderman.”
“Umm, where do you want me to get a Venom costume?”
“The store. Or order it online.”
“Haha, ok, well Halloween just happened, so I’ll have to see.”
“So you’ll do it? You’ll get me the costume?”
“Let me see what’s out there. And see how much it costs. Maybe I’ll get you the costume.”
“Ok, so when are you going to get it?”
“Can you wait until Christmas?”
The urgency with which my little friend asked for his costume indicated that this was serious business. I went and researched costumes online, but waited to see if this was just a fleeting desire. When I saw him at the retreat, he pulled me aside so his mother was out of earshot, “Have you ordered my Venom costume yet?”
“Not yet. Do you really want it?”
“Ok, well I looked for some and found them online.”
“Can’t you just go to the store and get it now?”
“They don’t have them at the store. It’s not Halloween anymore.”
“So are you going to order it now?”
“We’re not even in town now. I don’t even know if we have wifi.”
“How about I wait until we get home. Then I’ll probably order it.”
“Can you order it now?”
Aren’t we still like my 5-year-old friend when it comes to waiting? Our wants and desires might have changed, but when it comes to things that we really want, we can go after them with the same urgency as a child waiting on a toy that he’s “just dying” to have. Our desires also start to go beyond your basic tangible, material possessions (not all of the time, but a lot of the time). We wait for the perfect job, for the perfect spouse, for children. In times of grief, we wait to feel normal again, to not hurt so much. We wait for medical results and hold our breath in times of uncertainty. We wait for happiness and peace.
Waiting can be excruciating. It’s rarely fun. But waiting can do us much good. It gives us a greater appreciation for the thing that we’ve waited on. I’ve known parents who have struggled and waited years to have children. When they finally did get pregnant and birth that child, the excitement was bigger than had they not gone through the struggle and waiting. This is not to say that parents who don’t have to wait are not excited for the birth of their children, but that the excitement for those who struggle more is different. Like a man trudging through the hot desert without water, desperate and hope waning, nothing tastes better than that first drink. He’ll never look at the seemingly endless supply of water coming from his faucet the same way again.
Waiting also reveals our idols. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves to not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21) While these verses don’t specifically say the word “waiting,” they refer to waiting. Treasures in heaven give us no instant gratification. When we invest in eternity, we have to wait to see the returns. I don’t think that it’s an accident that Jesus talks about not being anxious just a few verses later. Is our security in our stuff, our success, our earthly treasures, or do we place our security in something greater, in the promises of God himself? The anxiety that we feel when we’re faced with waiting gives us a good indication of our level of trust in God. Sadly, I’ve known friends who forced marriage to someone who they shouldn’t have married because they didn’t want to wait anymore. They couldn’t stand being labeled as “single.” They were scared of being lonely and left out. They failed to trust that God might have something better. Instead of waiting for God, they bowed to the idol of marriage, eventually resulting in more pain and brokenness than before. I’ve known families that have traded in Sundays with church family for Sundays at the ball field in the hopes that their child might one day get a college scholarship or go pro and make tons of money. They fail to be obedient to God’s call to Christian community and to wait for and trust God to provide. Instead of setting the precedent, they bend to the culture. Years later, that child walks away from the faith entirely.
The Israelites failed to wait for Moses to come down from the mountain. God and Moses took longer than the Israelites thought that they should and, assuming that God had abandoned them, made gods for themselves (Exodus 32). Then, many years later, the Israelites grow anxious relying on God and waiting on him to lead them. Instead of being set apart from other nations, they desire to be like everyone else and request a king to lead them. Their lack of trust causes them to demand a human king. God warns them against this decision, but obliges, thus opening up the people to hundreds of years of a rollercoaster of hardship, struggle, and pain (1 Samuel 8).
We lack faith, so we raise up lesser things that we can see and touch to be our gods. Instead of waiting on the Lord, we trade in our heavenly crowns of gold and jewels for the paper and plastic toy crowns of children who know no better than the sandboxes and mud where they play.
As I write this, Christmas is just a few days away. Many children have been excitedly waiting so that they can receive presents. As an adult, I beg for time to slow down so I can get just a few more things done before the big day. Yesterday Aaron, my coworker and officemate, with whom I share rather close quarters, commented that I have been grouchy all week. I replied that I’ve been tired, stressed out by Christmas, and still have plenty to do. The observation and my response to it caused me to stop for a moment and reflect on this season and its meaning. As we reach the end of Advent, there should be an excited anticipation for two things: the celebration of the first coming of Christ as a humble baby over 2,000 years ago, and the second coming of Christ, which has yet to occur. The presents, parties, pageants, and time with friends and family are all nice, but should never overshadow the object of our celebration. Sometimes in the midst of our waiting, instead of completely getting off track, blaming God for our wait, and/or blatantly forming our own idols, we maintain the appearance of patience by consuming ourselves with the preparations. I’m ashamed to confess that I’ve uttered the phrase, “Oh no, Christmas is coming,” more than once in my life, desiring for the day to hold off just a little bit longer. I spend so much time getting ready for the day that I forget to reflect on and connect with the Savior.
When it comes to the second coming of Christ, I fear that it might be a similar story. When the sky rolls back and King Jesus returns, or when we face the end of our mortal lives and stand before the Lord, how many of us will be saying, “Oh no, I still have more to do”? Have we preoccupied ourselves so much with the work that we forget Reason? I raise these questions not to make you (or myself) feel guilty, but to encourage you to stop for a moment and truly celebrate the gift that God sent the world in baby Jesus and jump for joy over his defeat of the grave. Then look to his second coming and take this moment to reset and refocus priorities. No matter our circumstances this year, may we remember and look forward to the continued faithfulness of our God with joy and thanksgiving.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, McLendon did get his Venom/Spiderman costume … before Thanksgiving … because I also hate waiting. He was thrilled and his mother even let him sleep in it that night (but without the mask).