by Jordan Miller-Stubbendick—
In Dr. Suess’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go! an explorer journeys through the twists and turns of life. This little book is an engaging read, often given as a graduation gift. It’s known for its inspirational message—until the page where Dr.Seuss introduces “a most useless place” called “The Waiting Place,” a place “for people just waiting… for a train to go…or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow.”
I get caught up in the melodic cadence of Dr. Seuss’ rhyming words here, but pause for a moment when I turn the page and the story continues:
No! That’s not for you!
Somehow you’ll escape all
that waiting and staying.
You’ll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing
With banner flip-flapping,
once more you’ll ride high . . .
Like most people in our culture, Dr. Seuss assumes that waiting time is unproductive—something to be avoided or gotten through as quickly as possible. The good parts of life are found on the other side of the waiting time. We are programmed to do more, or be better or faster, as we rush from one place to another, checking things off our list. Minimizing the time we spend waiting means we can spend more time on the things that really matter…or does it?
CELEBRATING THE WAIT
As people of faith, we are enfolded in God’s story, which tells us that striving for our culture’s version of success is not the only way to live. Instead, our ancestors in faith and our own experiences tell us that some of life’s richness and depth can be found precisely in the waiting places. This is good news, since we spend much of life waiting for one thing or another—from the mundane to the life-altering. We wait in line at the grocery store, and we wait for news of a diagnosis. If these waiting times are just something to plod through while we anxiously anticipate the real stuff of life, we are missing something.
Consider the season of Advent, a mysterious and beautiful time of expectation woven into our church year. As the days grow shorter in the northern hemisphere, we are given four Sundays to wait for the promised Messiah, who will be born in time and who will come again at the end of time. I know people who don’t care for Advent, who find it depressing to hear hymns in a minor key and Luke’s warnings of signs that will be in the sun, the moon and the stars. I understand. Waiting is hard, and a month of hearing about things we can’t wrap our minds around can be even harder. Rather than wading through troubling predications about uncertain events, it is more pleasant to skip right to singing “Silent Night” by candlelight on Christmas Eve as we celebrate the birth of Jesus.
And yet, Mary, the mother of our Lord, tells us otherwise. There are gifts to be found in the liminal spaces of waiting and not knowing. In the Magnificat, Mary sings:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for you, Lord, have looked with
favor on your lowly servant.
From this day all generations
will call me blessed…
You have come to the aid of
your servant Israel, to remember
the promise of mercy,
the promise made to our
forebears, to Abraham and his
children forever (ELW 234).
Part of the exhilarating beauty of Mary’s song comes precisely from the times of waiting it encompasses. God kept Mary company—both inside and outside of her being—as she awaited the birth of her beautiful baby boy. It took time for Jesus to grow and develop, until he was ready to be born into this world. Mary waited for his birth just as her ancestors awaited the fulfillment of God’s promises. For Mary, for those who came before her, and for us, times of waiting can be times of turning God’s promises of presence, sustenance and justice over in our hands.
The Rev. Jordan Miller-Stubbendick lives in Kenmore, New York, with her family and serves as pastor of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Niagara Falls.
This article is from the December 2019 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.