Awkward. Part One of Advent: Befriending Discomfort as You Wait
We’re all waiting for something.
Perhaps it’s for that overdue promotion, or for our child to make a good friend, or to finally find love. We may simply be waiting to feel like ourselves again. No matter who you are, something has you waiting.
As we enter into Advent we’re invited on a journey of waiting. It’s the kind of waiting that calls us to the edge of our seats and beckons us into a cosmic count down. The Christ is coming.
We’re all invited into this joyous anticipation. But most of us live with a waiting that feels so far from anticipatory; it’s a wait that feels….well, weighty. It’s charged with ache, exhaustion, and the muscle memory of disappointment.
I know that weighty wait all too well. So, during this Advent season I plan to explore the tension between anticipation and the less shiny waiting. How does the coming of The Christ (God’s great solidarity with us) stir in us deeper hope and joy? And how does the reality that Divine Love has thrown in His lot with us mark our painful waiting…and perhaps even transform it? Yes, that’s what I want to explore…and I invite you to join me.
I’m doing a 3-part series during Advent/Epiphany. Each post will focus on an aspect of waiting, include an orienting Scripture and offer a spiritual practice or two to posture us for divine transformation.
We begin our journey in the Land of the Awkward.
The next three weeks may contain the greatest opportunities for awkward than the rest of the year combined.
Is your colleague being ironic with that Christmas sweater….or not? How do you tell your mom you’re not coming home for Christmas but rather going to Iceland with your latest boyfriend…and his family? If you get your new neighbors a $25 Amazon gift card will they give you a deluxe grill…or a fruitcake?
The holidays have always been high real estate for awkward. The coming of The Christ was preceded by 400 years of [awkward] silence from God. And there was Mary having to tell her fiancé that she was pregnant but completely innocent. Then there was Joseph having to tell his rabbi that he was just as innocent as his pregnant fiancé. Almost every character in the Christmas story experiences some form of discomfort.
At the heart of awkward is a gap. It can be a gap between how we’re seen and how we long to be seen. Or it’s a gap between what we have and what we long to have. And the most perilous gap is that canyon between who we are and who we long to be.
Perhaps the hardest thing about waiting is that we’re stuck in this awkward gap.
In the opening scene in the Gospel of Luke is a character who has endured the profound discomfort of life’s gaps. She’s had to face the gap of perception, desire and identity. And the injustice of it all: these awkward gaps weren’t even self-induced. They weren’t her fault.
She was refined. She had an impressive pedigree, i.e., able to trace her family tree back to Aaron (Moses’ brother). She married well. She had integrity. There was just this one thing, one little thing that forced her on the long bitter march of waiting…and all the awkwardness and shame that accompanied it. She was infertile.
Elizabeth lived during a time and in a culture where having children (especially sons) defined you. In many parts in the Middle East it still does. For a time I lived in a Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem and the women would introduce themselves not by their own name but as “The Mother of ______(the name of their oldest son).”
It’s the equivalent in our culture to: “What do you do?” And responding: “I’m unemployed.” Every time.
Here’s what Luke says about Elizabeth and her husband Zacharias:
“They were good and just people in God’s sight, walking with integrity in the Lord’s ways and laws. Yet they had this sadness. Due to Elizabeth’s infertility, they were childless, and at this time, they were both quite old-well past normal childbearing years.” Luke 1:6-7, Voice
Elizabeth had been faithful. And yet a sadness trailed her through the years. She shared the sadness with the person she loved most. She was the cause of his sadness too…though it wasn’t her fault. And now…well, it seemed too late. All the wishing, the praying, the what-ifs and even alternative medicines couldn’t turn back time.
We’re all waiting for something. What has you waiting?
Is there something you’re waiting for that is beginning to feel impossible? You may have had dreams when you were younger…and now you scramble to pay the bills and fill your nights with noise so you don’t have to think about the gap between where you are and where you thought you’d be. Perhaps for years you’ve determined to lose weight or get out of debt, but only more weight, debt and now shame have piled on. You might have had visions of the happily ever after and you find yourself in shock how long it’s been since the divorce papers were signed…or how long since you’ve felt happiness in your marriage. Maybe you’ve struggled with your health and you’ve done all the right things and you’re still not getting better.
Those gaps that waiting exposes can not only feel awkward…they can feel cruel. Soul-crushing, at times.
Last night I was on another first date. The guy asked a very natural—and all too familiar—question: “So, you’ve never married and don’t have kids?” As many times as I get that question I never know precisely how to answer. I tend to go straight for candor these days: “I’m befuddled by it myself. I’ve desired to marry. I love kids. I’ve had a very rich life…and am so grateful for it…and I’ve prayed ten thousand prayers to have a family.” And often I’ll end my monologue with a hearty laugh: “What the hell? I really don’t know why.” Then I take a sip of wine and try to deftly steer the conversation to international affairs.
My singleness has been a stellar setup for awkward conversations. From a multi-hour taxi ride in Malaysia to short ones in more countries than I can remember, taxi drivers seem most confused by my marital status…them, and my relatives in Texas. It’s so curious trying to explain a core aspect of my life I don’t fully understand myself.
I can only imagine how Elizabeth felt through the years. Perhaps she hoped people wouldn’t notice anymore. Or maybe she longed to talk about this big piece of her life that she could never quite find the words for. Maybe it was a bit of both.
Whatever she felt, something happened to Elizabeth that usurped words (Luke 1:8-25…culminating with this):
“Elizabeth: I have lived with the disgrace of being barren for all these years. Now God has looked on me with favor. When I go out in public with my baby, I will not be disgraced any longer.” Luke 1:25, Voice
Not everyone has an angel chat with their partner and ends up giving birth in their retirement years. So perhaps Elizabeth’s story isn’t for all of us.
But here’s the invitation I sense from God. He sees me in my waiting. He sees you in yours as well. I believe there’s still mystery in whose gaps are closed in what ways…what prayers get answered in the affirmative. However, I believe one of the greatest gifts of the Coming of the Christ is that God entered into Israel’s waiting—ultimately humanity’s longings and shame, hopes and questions—and said: “I see you. I haven’t forgotten you. I actually look upon you with favor.”
Or as Anthony de Mello wrote: “Behold the one beholding you, and smiling.”
That’s what God did for Elizabeth. Even in the waiting, that is what He is doing for you and me. But sometimes it takes us pausing to realize it. And so here are a couple of spiritual practices for the week to help us awake to the favor God looks on us in our waiting.
- 5 minutes to feel the awkwardness of waiting. Ok, this may seem like an uber odd spiritual practice. But I invite you to join me and put away our phones for 5 minutes each day when we would naturally use them to rescue us from awkward waiting. Take an elevator ride without looking at your phone. (I know, I know, it puts you at risk of the whole awkward eye-contact thing….but nonetheless…) Stand in line at Trader Joes with your phone still in your pocket or purse. Wait without props…and who knows, you may have a less-than-awkward conversation with someone…and find yourself smiling. Or it could be uncomfortable, and that’s ok too. But try. I dare you (and me).
- 5 minutes to feel God’s pleasure in the waiting. I encourage you to carve out 5 minutes to simply sit in silence with God. Remind Him of your desires. But also, let Him remind you of His love for you, His absolute pleasure in you. You may begin your time reading this Scripture:
“The Eternal your God is standing right here among you, and He is the champion who will rescue you. He will joyfully celebrate over you; He will rest in His love for you; He will joyfully sing because of you like a new husband.” Zephaniah 3:17, Voice
Later in Luke 1 Elizabeth enters the scene again. She hosts Mary for a visit. And here’s what happens:
“Elizabeth (shouting): You are blessed, Mary, blessed among all women, and the child you bear is blessed! And blessed I am as well, that the mother of my Lord has come to me! As soon as I heard your voice greet me, my baby leaped for joy within me. How fortunate you are, Mary, for you believed that what the Lord told you would be fulfilled.” Luke 1:42-45, Voice
Elizabeth’s painful wait for God to show up in her own gaps turned into true anticipation of the coming of the Christ.
May God also meet you in your waiting and may something so deep in you jump for joy knowing Christ has come and He will come again.
 Read Luke 1, specifically paying attention to Elizabeth.