For the past year, Kimberlee has been walking us through the church year. Today, we end where we began, in Advent. Thank you so much Kimberlee for guiding us this past year!
One of my sons struggles with reading. His brain is wired differently from his siblings’. They took to reading quickly and easily. This child can freeform anything with Legos, he can draw with perspective without ever having taken an art class, he can create complex and detailed inventions with scraps of wood and cloth. But black squiggles on white paper defeat him. Some days they defeat me, too.
Yesterday we worked on the word “their.” It’s a hard word. It doesn’t follow the usual phonetic patterns. You just have to memorize it. He read it three times in context, and twice when we drilled his sight words. We were both happy at the end of yesterday’s reading lesson.
This morning, the word “their” came up in the easy reader we’re working through. He didn’t recognize it.
“It’s the word we worked on yesterday,” I prompted.
He didn’t remember.
“What does t-h say?” I asked, hoping the diphthong would trigger his memory. It didn’t. It was like he had never seen the word before. “Their,” I told him.
The next word was “eyes.” He’s known this word for months, but in the last week he’s started reading it as “see.” It took us three minutes to read five words.
We muddled through two short sentences. The next two sentences contained nearly the exact same words in the exact same order. Once again, it was like he’d never seen them before. I pointed at the words he’d just read to me. He couldn’t remember them. We plodded through them all over again. Frustrated, he grabbed the book. When he didn’t know a word, he mumbled. When I asked him to speak up, he shouted.
This is not unusual. I know how to deal with it. I know I must stay calm, patient, quiet, unruffled and unruffleable. But I couldn’t.
I left the room. Even as I walked out, I knew what I might be doing to my sensitive little boy. I knew he might be feeling like I couldn’t handle him, like he was too much. I don’t want him to think or feel that. But in that moment, I couldn’t handle him. He was too much for my spent self.
I went up to my room. I closed the door. Then I punched the mattress as hard as I could. I grabbed a pillow and pummeled it with both fists. Then I used it to beat the mattress. By the time I was done, I was breathing hard and angrier than when I’d started. Mostly I was angry at me.
Why couldn’t I have been more patient? Why did I walk out like that? Why did my emotions rise to meet his? Why can’t I be more mature? Ad nauseam. Ad infinitum.
And then, a still small voice protested, You didn’t yell. You didn’t scold. You didn’t shame him with your words.
A memory flashed into my mind, of the last time I had been this angry, almost a year ago, and how I’d shoved a whole stack of books off the coffee table before I’d stomped upstairs to scream into my pillow and cry. The voice said gently, You didn’t act out today. You just left.
And along with those words a gentle accolade: It’s been nearly a year since you reacted like this. Nearly a year! I used to fly off the handle almost every day.
Slowly, my breathing evened out. No, I had not handled the situation perfectly. But I’d handled it better than I would have a year ago, and I shudder to think how I’d have handled it ten years ago.
It is Advent. It is a season of waiting. We wait for Christ to come as a baby in a manger 2000 years ago. We wait for Christ to come as the King of glory at the end of time. We wait between the already and the still to come. Between the now of what is and the not yet of what will be.
Waiting is not passive. It is not sitting and twiddling our thumbs. It is an act of faith. To wait is to surrender our stranglehold on outcomes and to trust that God is already here, now, right where we are (even if we’d rather be somewhere else) and that He is at work bringing the not yet to pass. To wait is to participate in that work even as we acknowledge that unless the Lord builds the house the workers labor in vain.
To wait is to look for God. If we seek Him, we will find Him—usually in unexpected places….which brings us back to surrendering outcomes. When I focus relentlessly on the particular thing(s) that I want, or perhaps even need, I miss out on the abundance of provision being heaped on me from other directions, in other ways. I want my son to read well. More, I want to be perfectly patient. As long as I am focused so utterly on these not yets, I miss the now.
Yes, I need a vision of my son reading fluently, and of myself responding patiently and kindly, bearing with his frustration and anger in love that knows no end. Those are both good things, and goals worth working toward.
But even as I look toward the not yet, and work toward its realization, I must also see what already is, see the strides he’s made, the strides I’ve made. From day to day there’s not much difference, but compared to this time last year, we’re both much further down the road. Last year’s not yet is this year’s now.
We need both. We need the not yet to give us a vision of where we’re headed and keep us pressing on to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus. We need the now to give us encouragement that salvation is nearer to us than when we first believed.
Advent waiting, with its twin focus on history and eschatology, is an exercise in holding the now and the not yet together. In God’s chronology, this year’s not yet is already now. It is already accomplished. I need only stay the course, put one foot in front of the other in the bare faith that believes that it receives, and what now seems so distant and impossible will come to pass. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
Today also marks the beginning of our Advent book: Those Who Wait: Finding God in Disappointment, Doubt and Delay by Tanya Marlow. In the introduction, Tanya shared how her health the last 20 years have been formative in the subject of waiting. What in her story stood out to you? Had you thought biblically before about waiting? What has God used in your life to spiritually form you when it comes to waiting?
Next week we dive in with our discussion of Sarah and “Dealing with disappointment, Waiting for joy.”
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