How do we wait for God? We wait with patience. But patience does not mean passivity. Waiting patiently is not like waiting for the bus to come, the rain to stop, or the sun to rise. It is an active waiting in which we live the present moment to the full in order to find there the signs of the One we are waiting for.
The word patience comes from the Latin verb patior which means "to suffer." Waiting patiently is suffering through the present moment, tasting it to the full, and letting the seeds that are sown in the ground on which we stand grow into strong plants. Waiting patiently always means paying attention to what is happening right before our eyes and seeing there the first rays of God's glorious coming.
My life is full of waiting: for lost ones to know the Lord, for unrealized hopes to come to life, for struggles to get easier, for fears to end... So I want to understand this active waiting that Nouwen is describing, in order to enter the moment, as he says, and find the signs of Jesus in the strain of it all. Otherwise, I just bear down and endure and somehow hope the yuck and hurt go away.
In Romans 8:19, the Apostle Paul uses this word "waiting":
For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.That phrase, waiting eagerly, is apokaradokia in the original Greek. It is only used here, and in Philippians 1:20,
For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die.
One commentator, Kenneth Wuest, breaks it down this way:
Apokaradokia comes from apo (away), kara (the head), dokein (to watch). A watching with the head erect and outstretched. Hence a waiting in suspense.
The Greek scholar Colin Brown says this:
Translated as anxious waiting. The Greek fathers, however, interpreted the noun without any negative tinge as intense anticipation, strong and excited expectation... free of fear and uncertainty... bearing witness to the fact that the power of expectation does not lie in strength of feeling but in the certainty which God has given and which is peculiar [unique] to hope.
In other words, I don't have to generate some sense of excitement on my own and pretend I'm happy all the time. Instead, I must lean into God's spirit to give me peace and rest and deep hope -- a hope that is secure, and as it says in Romans 5:5, does not disappoint, because it is anchored in God's love for us.
This week I have watched many of my students eagerly await the opening of the latest Harry Potter movie (friends too perhaps?!). They stay up late for midnight showings, they talk about favorite characters, they dress up... this is all fine. (Admittedly, I don't get it, but I won't judge).
But if I understand all these smart Bible scholars, it is apparently possible for us to be that excited in the midst of our struggles and trials as well, "watching with our heads erect and outstretched," as Wuest describes it. It's a mental picture that helps me get my head and heart around this concept of active waiting.
I know I am not there yet. But "Christ in me, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27) can reveal it to me. In my Benedictine devotional yesterday I was called to live ordinary life with extraordinary awareness and commitment. May it be so, Lord Jesus.