Waiting. It’s an action that some of us come to dread. As children, we may associate it with punishment: “Just wait until we get home.” Or, it can be a mixture of excitement and anticipation: “You’ll just have to wait and see what Santa brings you.”
It’s also an action that we must learn. How does one wait? Sometimes, the easiest answer lies in an attempt to forget. And how does that happen? Through busywork, through a means of distancing or an attempt of disassociating the one thing we’re eagerly anticipating but have no control over.
To wait is to be in a state of suspension. It’s a liminal space – much like purgatory.
And this is the lesson that we learn during Advent. We wait. For four weeks, we anticipate our Savior’s arrival. It’s often the hardest lesson to learn because waiting is contrary to the way we live our lives.
As we picked out our Christmas tree and were waiting to have it brought to our car, I glanced around at the crowds of families. Young children waited in line with families to visit Santa for pictures. But the children weren’t simply waiting. They were squirming, wringing their parents’ hands, twisting around in excitement. Or, they were wailing, tugging away from their parents, away from the strange man in the red suit.
Early in our lives, we experience difficulty with waiting. We simply can’t wait patiently.
Advent isn’t only about waiting. The season asks us to be mindful, to be watchful. In other words, it asks us to pay attention. This, too, is a difficult concept. This may be associated in our brains with a negative connotation. “Pay attention,” orders the grade-school teacher or your parents when you fail to listen. But it’s a vital lesson that we must relearn. Increasingly, I find myself struggling with mindfulness in my classes. For instructors, technology can be a blessing and a curse.
In the college classroom, despite continual reminders to put the phones, tablets and laptops away, the need to be plugged in remains a constant. Indeed, in writing classes, banning laptops seems counterintuitive. This is the uphill battle that we face.
As a society, we have difficulty staying unplugged for any length of time. It can feel unnatural, especially to young adults. A sense of urgency is associated with every notification – but also a sense of anxiety and panic.
When I talk with my students about this, they acknowledge the absurdity of how “connected” they’ve become. They admit to the annoyance and stress they feel with each noisy alert.
Of course, teachers all know the downside: the shortened attention span, the difficulty of staying on task, the increasing effort it takes for students to analyze and closely read. In short, the inability to wait and pay attention. The inability to slow down and focus on what remains in front of them.
This Advent, as we watch each successive candle light our way forward into Christmas, we are asked to be mindful. We are asked to be present. We are asked to be reflective. We are asked to slow down, to turn our thoughts and minds to what truly matters: our Savior.
Dr. Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at email@example.com.