Hungry. Part Two of Advent: Befriending Desire as You Wait
When was the last time you’ve been stomach-growling-I-could-eat-a-horse hungry?
Maybe it’s not been since bikini season…or maybe your stomach is torturing you with hunger pains right now (and reading the word hungry is only making it worse…sorry).
Here’s a confession: up until recently I couldn’t remember when I felt truly hungry. (And yes, I recognize the ridiculous privilege in that statement.) I’ve just had a habit of pre-empting hunger. Why wait to get hungry when you can eat now…and now…and now. Right?
You may already be thinking it…so I’ll just say it. Hunger is such a buzz-kill topic during the holiday season. And this post isn’t a how-to for avoiding the cookie platter in the breakroom this week or an emotional plea for starving children in the midst of Christmas commercialism (though both beneficial topics). This post is ultimately about our deepest desires…and what happens to them when we wait.
So, what do you most want right now? How long have you been waiting for it?
What if all our waiting—all those hunger pains and heartaches—compounded value like interest? What if waiting well could make us more present, more discerning, and more grateful?
As we continue on this Advent adventure, we’re invited not to dismiss our longings but rather we are to pay greater attention to them. We do this believing our physical wants can tell us about spiritual needs. The body and spirit can’t help but journey together. That’s at the heart of the incarnation: God makes His home in flesh.
The two characters in the Nativity Narrative we will focus on had a keen sense of how the spiritual and physical cohabitate. They both learned to wait well and in the end were rewarded with more than they could imagine. (Their stories are found in Luke 2.)
First, there’s Simeon.
The Christ is only 8 days old. Mary and Joseph take baby Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem as they offer a sacrifice. This is when they met Simeon. Here’s what Luke says transpires:
25 While fulfilling these sacred obligations at the temple, they encountered a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was a just and pious man, anticipating the liberation of Israel from her troubles. He was a man in touch with the Holy Spirit. 26 The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Anointed One. 27 The Spirit had led him to the temple that day, and there he saw the child Jesus in the arms of His parents, who were fulfilling their sacred obligations. 28 Simeon took Jesus into his arms and blessed God.
Waiting well makes us more present.
Most likely Simeon was old. And it’s probable he was tired. But what is certain is that Simeon was paying attention to God’s Spirit.
No matter how long Simeon had been waiting for the Christ, he was present in his waiting. He was attuned to God’s Spirit when the time came to act and to receive. He wasn’t about to miss out on what he’d been waiting for.
Admittedly, I seem to get more and more distractible these days. So for Advent I decided to try intermittent fasting. I’ll share more later in the post, but it’s essentially fasting for 16-18 hours each day. Having to wait each day to eat has helped me realize how much I tend to eat as a distraction or while distracted. Ridiculous. I know. But now, when I’ve waited to eat, I’m so much more present and poised to savor it.
What’s stealing your attention these days? (Instagram, Facebook, online sales, the President’s twitter account, dating apps?) How might the act of waiting (or simply pausing) help you to be more present to God, to others, to your deeper desires?
Simeon had learned to be present. And…he had become discerning. Here’s what he tells Mary and Joseph.
29 Simeon: Now, Lord and King, You can let me, Your humble servant, die in peace.
30 You promised me that I would see with my own eyes
what I’m seeing now: Your freedom,
31 Raised up in the presence of all peoples.
32 He is the light who reveals Your message to the other nations,
and He is the shining glory of Your covenant people, Israel.
Waiting well makes us more discerning.
We don’t’ know for how long Simeon had been waiting for Jesus…but we know how much it meant to him. Simeon had pegged his life to the coming of the Christ. It was what he was living for. And he wasn’t going to settle for less.
This intermittent fasting experiment has given me a more discerning palate. After waiting a chunk of the day to eat, I don’t want junk food. I want a worthy feast. When we defy the impulses around us for instant gratification, we begin to realize we’re promised something better. And when we wait upon God…nothing will satisfy more.
Right after Simeon approaches Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus a woman named Anna shows up. Luke describes the encounter like this:
36 At that very moment, an elderly woman named Anna stepped forward. Anna was a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She had been married for seven years before her husband died 37 and a widow to her current age of 84 years. She was deeply devoted to the Lord, constantly in the temple, fasting and praying. 38 When she approached Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, she began speaking out thanks to God, and she continued spreading the word about Jesus to all those who shared her hope for the rescue of Jerusalem.
Waiting well makes us more grateful.
To me, this tiny snatch of a story is one of the richest in Scripture. Tragic loss. Surprising choices. Deep devotion. Pure gratitude. Contagious joy. It’s all there.
If my husband died in my twenties, I’d feel gypped. I fear I’d grow bitter. I imagine I’d be filling up on the ancient Jewish equivalent of cookie dough. But that’s not Anna. She makes herself at home in the house of God…and instead of gorging on comfort food she prays…and fasts. All those decades of waiting well—fasting and praying—culminated in instant gratitude. Her gut reaction to the sight of Jesus was thanks! And then she couldn’t help but spread joy.
Simeon and Anna were both given an invitation to wait. Years turned into decades, and they still waited. They were people who waited well…for what mattered most. And in the end, they became more present, more discerning and more grateful.
So, once again, what do you most want right now?
Desire is a God-given gift. How can you care for it well this Christmas and into 2018?
Desires of our heart and basic hunger have so much in common. Just as it’s unhealthy to lose your appetite, so it can be to lose desire for good gifts. I can typically outeat grown men under the table, but for a short time this summer I lost my appetite. I was stressed, and frankly I was afraid that a project I had poured my heart and soul into was going to end in disastrous flames of failure. Ok, that sounds uber dramatic, but I was scared. When we find ourselves ambivalent about something we’ve longed for, it’s worth asking: Is fear, perfectionism or despair behind it? If so, pray the audacious prayer that God will give you the desire to desire again.
Yet, it’s also a sign of something wrong to be ravenous all the time…and so it is with longing. If we let our desires get out of proportion they will make us ill-equipped to appreciate them once we get them. When it comes to my singleness I’ve often prayed, “God help me keep desire alive but not be consumed by it.” It’s such a challenge, isn’t it, when we dare to let ourselves desire something…and then have to keep that desire in check?
Curiously enough, the one desire we can have that won’t destroy our true selves is our longing for God. We can’t out love God. We can’t out trust God. We can’t out desire God.
Just as we’re in the last few days before Christmas, consider how your hunger and desires can be given as a gift back to God. Here are two ideas:
- Fast for 1 meal (or more) to pay attention to your hunger and deep desires.
Consider fasting one meal (or you may decide more) sometime between now and Epiphany (January 6). As you let your body feel the hunger pains, talk to God about your own desires. Since the beginnings of Advent, the early Church participated in a Nativity Fast. Today the Eastern Orthodox’s practice of Advent still includes a fast. (For a stellar overview of this see this short piece: https://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/125490.pdf ) And, if you’re curious about Intermittent Fasting, here’s a short overview. I’ve been doing the 16-hour fast for Advent…ok, I’ve ditched it a couple of days when Argentine pastries were forced upon me 😉 https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/intermittent-fasting-guide
- 5 minutes to pay attention to your hunger/desire for God.
From now until Christmas consider spending 5 minutes a day reflecting on your desire for God and asking for more. If you find you can hardly conjure up a longing for God, dare to ask for the desire to desire Him.
God knows it’s hard to desire Him, to wait upon Him. Yet, the Psalmist invites us to be courageous and do it anyway.
Wait patiently for the Lord.
Be brave and courageous.
Yes, wait patiently for the Lord. Psalm 27:14, New Living Translation
Yet when we do, joy comes (maybe not every time, but over time)
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! Psalm 34:8 New Living Translation
A Feast Awaits
Hunger and desires aren’t beautifully wrapped boxes with nothing inside. They are gifts because they signal that a feast and fulfillment are coming.There are so many images of feasting in Scripture. Jesus’ first miracle (which we’ll focus on next post) entails feasting. And I love that God’s epic story ends with the imagery of a feast…as a wedding feast.
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life.
He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!”
Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!
May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s holy people. Revelation 22:20,21 New Living Translation
As you let yourself experience hunger and create more space to feel desire during this Christmas season, may you be emboldened with hope. A feast awaits. Come, Lord Jesus. Come.