I got called for jury duty this past Monday - the last time I was called for jury duty was probably about ten years ago, so I had to read up and get a little refresher on what to expect. I learned that most of my day would be spent in a room with a bunch of others waiting to see if we would be selected onto a jury for a trial. I brought my laptop, figuring that I could get some work done and be productive. As it turns out, I forgot both my charger and my headphones so getting work done was no longer an option. So, aside from the brief five minutes where I got to watch the juror instructional video hosted by a fresh 1980’s Lester Holt (slide 1), I ended up waiting… in a waiting room. Go figure.
Waiting is so much a part of life that there are dedicated entire rooms and areas for it. There are businesses whose sole focus is to design waiting rooms for maximum comfort and satisfaction – all with the goal to help the folks who are waiting forget that they are waiting. Here’s an excerpt from a blog about waiting room design (slide 2): When you provide an activity — or you provide the infrastructure patients need to be productive on their own — you make wait time seem shorter and keep patients from watching the clock.
Free WiFi should be a given, but don’t stop there. If space permits, consider providing individual desks or communal work tables and charging stations. Patients are often missing work for their appointments; helping them be productive can alleviate stress and show you value their time. Some practices offer patients iPads — often tethered to the furniture — that come preloaded with games, digital magazines, newspapers, and social apps.
But why are we averse to waiting? Why do we feel the need to keep ourselves busy? The values of activity and doing are very much a part of American culture. Dr. L Robert Kohls, former director of training for the U.S. Information Agency and the Meridian International Center in Washington DC, spent his career helping other cultures understand American culture and vice versa. In his work “The Values Americans Live By,” he highlighted 13 core American values that he gathered from years of introducing thousands of international visitors to America each year. He shared that if the foreign visitor really understood how deeply ingrained these 13 values are in Americans, he or she would then be able to understand a whopping 95% of American actions.
Here is one value he highlights in his writing: (slide 3):
[SLIDE 3] Time is so valued in America, because by considering time to be important one can clearly accomplish more than if one “wastes” time and does not keep busy. This philosophy has proven its worth. It has enabled Americans to be extremely productive, and productivity itself is highly valued in the United States.
As Americans, we like to keep busy so that we feel productive. It’s no wonder then, living in American culture, that we’re drawn to productivity tools, apps and resources that promise to maximize our time, keep us busy and minimize waiting (or avoid it altogether). We’ve become experts at multitasking, we read magazines and articles that promise tips on being more productive (slide 4)
and we can even hire people to do the literal waiting for us (slide 5).
I’m all for maximizing time -- I love learning about and utilizing the latest productivity app or life hack to help me get the things on my list of to-do’s accomplished. But I wonder if because we are so immersed in a culture that encourages keeping busy and being productive, if we miss out on what the opposite of that - waiting - might have for us. Especially as we head into a month filled with tons of to-do lists, calendars packed with holiday events and not enough time ever, what if waiting with Jesus is actually what we can be most helped by?
Today marks the first Sunday of the Advent season, and with Advent, we remember and join in on the experience of waiting in anticipation of Jesus’ birth on Christmas. And it feels fun to wait for Christmas - we’ve got Christmas music on loop thanks to 93.9 LITE FM, all of the poorly-written Hallmark Christmas movies on marathon, and all of the Christmas decorations everywhere.
But, outside of that, I’ve found waiting to be not so fun. Whether it’s the day-to-day of waiting in line at the store or sitting in traffic on your home from a long work day or more higher stakes of waiting for biopsy results to come back or waiting to see if you got that job after the interview - in a lot of cases, waiting - to be frank - sucks. There’s a reason why we tried to avoid waiting or distracting ourselves!
In January of this year, my dad got pretty sick so I’ve spent a lot of time waiting. Waiting in doctor’s offices, waiting in hospital rooms, waiting for test results, waiting on the phones with insurance companies. In waiting, there is a lot of not knowing - and it’s really hard to sit in that.
This morning I want to share a portion from the Bible that I’ve found to be helpful for me especially in this season, Psalm 27. Like many other psalms, is the result of the author David externally processing. As a side note, I feel like emo/pop-punk bands in the early 2000’s could have lifted a bunch of his psalms, set them to some minor chords on an electric guitar and gotten some wins. Anyway, I’m a big fan of the book of Psalms in the Bible because they often give words to what I’m feeling and help me bring that to God.
Feel free to read along with me or sit back and listen:
[SLIDE 6] Psalm 27 The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid? 2 When the wicked advance against me to devour[a] me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. 3 Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. 4 One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. 5 For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. 6 Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord. 7 Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. 8 My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek. 9 Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior. 10 Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. 11 Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. 12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations. 13 I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 14 Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
[SLIDE 6: BLANK]
What resonates for me most in this psalm is that the in the midst of being pursued and attacked by his enemies, the closing line is a call to “wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” He didn’t ask God for a large army to back him up or super Hulk mode for strength or ask for an invisible cloak to peace out. He issued a call to himself, a pep talk to himself, to wait for the Lord. When I read that verse, I asked myself - why? Why would that be David’s pep talk at the end - to wait?
And in reading back the passage, I realized that it’s because David is banking on God to show up and be with him. And maybe that’s how we wait. That just as we do so this Advent season ahead of Christmas, we bank on God to show up and be with us. That is the Good News, that God in his great love for us, chose to show up, come into our world and be with us.
My dad’s circumstances and situation haven’t changed much. We continue to wait and that has become our new normal. But in the midst of the waiting and the subsequent not knowing, what I’ve experienced to be true is that God with me in this season - and that continues to be my prayer for my dad. For me, it’s meant experiencing an unexplainable peace and comfort in a situations when it seems like those shouldn’t be accessible, and also being able to receive care and love from family and friends - many of you whom are sitting right here. (Thank you for being with us!)
If you are in a season of waiting, can I encourage you to call on God or continue to call on God? Bank on God to show up. And if that feels difficult, can I encourage you to invite people into your waiting? I know it’s vulnerable.
I am confident that when we ask God to show us when we are not alone, He will show up. That is what we wait for in anticipation during this Advent season and what we celebrate at Christmas. That God is with us and meets us when we call on him. .
I shared at the beginning that I’ve waited in a lot of waiting rooms and hospitals this year. One memory that sticks with me is when we were waiting at the hospital for my dad to get out of surgery back in February when a huge snowstorm hit. We ended up taking over one corner of the waiting room at the University of Chicago hospital and my husband Eric had the idea of making it a cozy area since we were going to be snowed in for a while. This picture for me represents the kind of waiting I want to continue to experience. A waiting in the midst of a literal and figurative storm but cozied up and warm and most importantly - not alone. [SLIDE 7]
For the group (5 minutes):
- What, if anything, am I waiting on right now?
- Where do I want God to show up?
- Who are the people I can invite to wait with me?