by Carrie Nettles, mom, minister, advocate, reader, teacher, and perennial student, Associate at LeAnn Gardner Counseling and Training
“The waiting is the hardest part.”1
Or so says St. Tom of the Heartbreakers
This lyric pops into my mind when my preschooler melts down after I defer her desire for every Disney/Calico Critter/Shopkin, shiny, blinky, twirly thing we walk past on my (supposed-to-be) short trip to buy new candles for the Advent wreath.
She comes by it honestly. When the spiritual gifts were doled out, I must have passed on by the patience. It’s okay; God works even greater miracles than transforming my great impatience. I trust it will come. “You take it on faith.”2 I’m doing my part, but as I look at her tear-stained cheeks I think, yeah, kid, I get it. The waiting is the hardest part.
I know a little something about waiting. Serving as a chaplain in a level one trauma center means waiting with people in some of the most agonizing moments of their lives. They wait what feels like eternity to learn their loved one is tragically dead/mercifully fine. I learned even more about waiting as I sat beside them in the uncertainty and fear.
I was serving as a hospital chaplain when Mom’s diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer came. I knew. I walked in two worlds that year: one, the daughter championing her mother’s unfailing fortitude, her fight for her life; the other, the chaplain who knew in the deep knowing place that we were already very close to the end. So while I fought for Mom and with Mom, I was also insubordinately waiting for her to die.
The waiting was the hardest part: both knowing it was impending, even closer than the doctors and family acknowledged, and being utterly at its mercy.
The waiting now is for the deep morass of grief to relent a bit. Just as the Hebrew for forty days and nights or years is best understood as “it takes as long as it takes,” this season of grief will take as long as it takes. The waiting is the hardest part.
And whether I can feel joy at Christmas or not, it does come again in the morning.3 Or so says the Psalmist.
And, it comes in the mourning.
“And” is a holy conjunction yoking together what seems impossible.
Joy? In mourning?
Mom is dead. And Christ has defeated death.
Death wins every day, and we say again and again, I believe in the Resurrection and the life everlasting.
I have seen the effects of the evil we visit upon one another in recovery rooms, hospital rooms, ER waiting rooms, and rape crisis boardrooms. People are brutally murdering and injuring one another and themselves all day, day after day. And we sing carols of “Rejoice” and “Glad Tidings.”
We are all suffering and rejoicing, dying and being born. We are stuck in the muck of sin that is killing us. Wars rage. Tyrants rule. We massacre innocents. We turn away sojourners. Nothing has changed.
Everything has changed.
The story Matthew tells of the world into which Jesus was born is also our story even now.
And as I have waited, I came to know that holy conjunction AND as that which brings us close to knowing a mystery.
In this midst of the darkness, we have seen a great light.
We are waiting on a miracle, and the miracle is happening even now.
We are waiting for the Christ child to be born, and God is already with us working in the dead places, giving birth to new life.
The waiting is the hardest part, especially for impatient ones like me and B, AND the miracle has already happened. Wait just a moment more, you’ll see.
1 The Waiting by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
3 Psalm 30