waiting: the action of staying where one is or delaying action until a particular time or until something else happens.
anticipating: regarding as probable; expecting or predicting.
Now, I know I’m not the first person who’s come up with positioning these two attitudes against each other. But it struck me this morning just how dramatically different it feels to wait for something than it does to anticipate something. Waiting feels overwhelmingly negative. Anticipating feels brightly positive.
As a kid, when you’re waiting for the slowest person to get out of bed on Christmas morning so you can open presents, you feel more irritated impatience than joyful anticipation. When you are waiting in line, you’re not smiling at the thought of getting out of the store—you’re scowling at how slowly the person in front of you is sorting through coupons and haggling about sale prices. When you wait on hold on a customer service call, you’re not anticipating with glee being able to get on with your life (ever).
Waiting feels bad. Anticipating feels good.
When we anticipate a fun trip, we get to participate in it before it even begins by planning our itinerary, learning about the place we’re going to visit, making plans to meet up with a friend while we’re there. We get to daydream. We look forward to it with longing, but that longing is joyful because we know what awaits us will be fun, an adventure, a break from the normal, boring routine of life (which I think we’re all feeling really keenly right now, aren’t we?).
When we are actually at the airport and our plane is delayed, that’s when joyful anticipating transforms into anxious, irritated waiting. Will I miss my connecting flight? Will I not have time to do everything I planned? Will my luggage get to the right destination? Will the woman next to me ever stop talking so loudly into her cell phone about deeply private matters?
Just look at the definition of waiting. The action of staying where one is…until something else happens. The act of being passive. The act of doing nothing until we are told the time is now. The very definition feels contrary, so we feel contrary while we’re doing it.
Waiting for a table at a restaurant. Waiting for the storm to pass so we can get on that plane. Waiting for someone to call or respond to an email. Waiting for someone to forgive us. None of this feels good.
We’ve all been doing a lot of waiting this year. Waiting to see what the next restriction will be. Waiting until our hairdresser can get back to work. Waiting for the newest numbers and charts. Waiting until we can get together again. Waiting for dine-in to resume at restaurants. Waiting for borders to open to nonessential travel. Waiting for vaccines. Waiting for the day we can stop wearing masks. Waiting for the day we can hug and shake hands with impunity.
So. Much. Waiting.
I’ve always thought of Advent as a time of waiting. Waiting for Christmas. Waiting for God the Father to send God the Son. (There’s an interesting aside here about waiting for God the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which really was waiting for something to happen…but that’s a whole other discussion.) But basically, yeah…waiting for God to do something He said He would.
Personally, I have been waiting to feel better about myself after screwing up something big in my personal life. I’ve received forgiveness, but I’m still waiting to feel anything more than shame and contempt for myself. It’s not a great feeling. And I’m not sure what else needs to happen before I’ll feel better.
Our natural tendency as a year draws to a close is to take stock of what has passed and make plans for what’s to come. To anticipate what the next year will bring. I wonder how many of us are hesitant to do that this time around. I know I am. I had so many events canceled last year, I don’t have the heart to go through the same thing next year.
Though I am starting to fill up the early months of the year with virtual book events, I am eagerly awaiting the time when I can get back to doing events in person. My family already rescheduled our trip to Yellowstone for June, and I’m worried we still won’t be back to normal by then. I am already planning next September’s WFWA writing retreat in Albuquerque and wondering if we can accommodate as many people as we usually do.
I am anticipating some good things next year—not simply waiting for them to happen, but expecting them to happen, preparing for them to happen—even if my normal joy in such planning is tempered by fear of cancelation, or at least complication.
And that’s really what Advent is. It’s not just waiting for God to do something. It’s expecting it, regarding it as probable. It’s having real hope which is grounded in the fact that He has fulfilled His promises in the past and so He will fulfill this one as well. It’s preparing for it. Preparing our houses, sure, but far more importantly, preparing our hearts.
When you’re expecting a baby, you don’t just wait for it to be born. You prepare for it. You learn about it. You buy furniture and equipment and diapers and bottles and a hundred other things. And you anticipate with joy the coming of this new life into yours.
I want to feel better about myself after my personal failing. But just waiting for that to happen is pointless. Rather, I should anticipate it happening by actively working toward wholeness. I’ve taken some first steps by asking for and receiving forgiveness. I’m taking more steps by getting some good advice from godly friends, praying more frequently and more fervently, and beginning a purposeful study of Scripture.
I want to feel more hopeful about next year, but if all I do is wait for the news to be better that’s not going to help my mental state. Instead, I can anticipate it by making my plans joyfully, fully expecting that by June most people will be vaccinated and our Yellowstone trip can feel mostly normal, and further that by September things will be even better.
Because, yes, there were times 2020 has felt interminable. But aren’t most of us kind of amazed it’s already basically over? Why should the next six to twelve months be any different? Instead of just waiting Covid out, I want to anticipate it being over by using the next several months well. Finishing a manuscript, doing some projects around the house, starting to exercise more regularly. All the stuff that we didn’t have the mental or physical energy for this year as we simply dealt with the constantly changing reality and rules around us—that’s the stuff we can start doing now that there is some hope on the horizon.
Hope is the key.
Romans 8:18-25 says,
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
That’s Advent. That’s anticipating. That’s expecting, predicting, regarding as probable.
Maybe for me 2021 will be one long Advent season, waiting with patience and expectation for things to be made whole—including myself—believing with absolute trust that it will come to pass…because God promised it would.