If we rush to Christmas, we miss out on one of the most transformational seasons of the year.
My wife and I have welcomed six children into this world, and each pregnancy seems to have lasted longer than the one before. Maybe it’s that, as we get older, we have less physical endurance. Or maybe it’s that, with each new baby, we get more excited and impatient to meet the next one. Pregnancy is for patient people. It seems an infinitely long wait for that new little one to make appropriate preparations for their grand entrance into the world.
Pregnancy is the first of many, many times that our children have made us wait. We now spend our days waiting for toddlers to put their shoes on so we can get to church, waiting in the car to pick them up from sports practices, waiting for them to finally close the screen door without being reminded. We wait out tantrums. We wait out arguments and eye-rolls in our direction.
In the past, I had a tendency to respond to provocations very quickly. If someone said something I didn’t like, I was quick with a sarcastic or defensive comment. There was very little thought to how I actually should react, only a quick feeling followed by a response that I immediately would regret. I’m very impatient, the kind of guy who gets very frustrated when a shopper in front of me walks too slowly with their cart down the aisle or a driver goes too slowly in the passing lane.
For those of us who have it, this lack of patience carries over into parenting, where the flaw is quickly exposed. Babies, for instance, are literally hard-wired to stress out their parents. It’s a survival technique. When I first became a father, I didn’t understand that my new baby wasn’t crying because she was out to get me and wasn’t intentionally making my life miserable — she was just trying to tell us she was hungry. As babies become toddlers, they begin exploring their boundaries. They begin telling pointless, elaborate lies about random things. They disobey on purpose or test the resolve and consistency of established rules.
I remember my three-year-old daughter once ran into the street 100 times in a row. Each time I would tell her, “No,” and put her back in the yard. By the hundredth time, she finally got it and stopped running into the street, but it took that long. Children might become physically aggressive as they work to sort out emotions. As teenagers they go through a natural exploration of their limits, often pushing through boundaries and only finding their way to maturity by first making mistakes.
All of this is a waiting game. Parents must calmly but consistently help their children to grow up, and this takes a lot of patience. In the end, the reward is a fully actualized human being, which is absolutely worth it, but for us parents, who are still in the midst of it, the light at the end of tunnel can seem awfully far off.
The season of Advent, of course, is all about waiting for the arrival of a baby. So Advent, too, is a waiting game. Every impulse we have insists that we’re wasting time if we don’t fast-forward to Christmas and begin celebrating as early as possible. Because of this, Advent has become lost in the shuffle of holiday preparations, which is a shame because Advent has a lot to teach us about the value of patience. It brings renewed focus on spiritual discipline, encouraging us to examine our lives so that the Christmas celebration, once it finally arrives, is really meaningful.
When I became Catholic nine years ago and began taking Advent seriously, it not only helped me prepare for Christmas, but it helped me develop a willingness to be patient with myself and all my flaws. It taught me the value of waiting. Spiritually, I’m like a child who is still making constant mistakes. God waits for me. Knowing that, I will never give up. Like a good father, He believes in us but never rushes us, never grows impatient as we work our way toward spiritual maturity.
I cannot help but notice that the disciplines of Advent, if I apply them to parenting, are incredibly helpful. I don’t need to respond quickly and imprudently to provocations from my children. I can wait to respond until I’m able to do so more appropriately and constructively. I don’t need to feel frustration or anger because my children make mistakes or seem to be testing my limits. They’re just being kids and I can wait it out. I don’t need to worry that they don’t seem to be maturing at the pace I think they should be. I can trust that, with the love and guidance of their mother and I, they’ll be just fine. I don’t need to rush ahead to some imaginary goal in the future. I can wait right here with my kids, loving every minute of sharing the journey alongside them.