Tom Petty is right: the waiting is the hardest part.
The rock star theologian's wisdom is especially relevant to me in this Advent season. Like many pastors, I am what is known as "bi-vocational." I serve a congregation that is too small to pay me a full time salary so I have another job on the side to pay the bills. At the end of the year, however, that job will end.
For the past few months I have been seeking a new job. Yet as anyone who has spent their days sending out resumes in this economic climate can attest, there are few jobs to be had. Often, it feels like you're sending your resume into a black hole - never to be seen or heard from again. In heartier years I would have had numerous interviews by now and perhaps even a job offer or two. But with so many people competing for so few jobs I'm lucky to even get my application acknowledged, much less called for an interview.
So, I wait - joining the millions of others who are hoping that one day their savior - in the form of a job - will come. Some have certainly been waiting longer than me, those so-called "99ers" who have exhausted their 99 weeks of unemployment insurance. Still others are now facing the holidays without those extra few dollars since Congress failed to extend unemployment benefits.
I certainly hope that my own wait for a job will not take that long, but I have no way of knowing how the future will unfold. Like a kid at Christmas, though, I'm antsy to see what God has in store, hoping it is what I've been hoping and praying for, and if not, that I can be gracious in receiving whatever the gift turns out to be.
While I am trying to be patient in this time of waiting, I'm not enjoying myself. We humans are not good waiters. We hate waiting and have created a "want it now, get it now" culture of instant gratification. After all, the prosperity preachers tell us if we believe rightly and do the right things, God will bless us with a lot of stuff, right now. Such teachings lead us to believe that God has abandoned us in those times when we find ourselves down to our last dollar and waiting for an opportunity to get back to work.
In these times, we tend to cry out, "How long, O Lord?" How long must we wait for our lives to get back to normal? How long must we wait for that badly needed job? Perhaps it's not the best time to point out that those who waited on God in the Bible tended to wait a very long time.
As David Timms, in his book Sacred Waiting points out, Noah waited 600 years before God established the rainbow covenant with him after the flood. It was 100 years before Abraham was granted his promised son, and Moses waited forty years in the desert before being sent to deliver his people from Egypt. Even David, God's chosen one, waited a decade for his throne. I suppose I should be happy if it takes me a year or two to find a job.
While those Biblical examples may provide cold comfort to anyone trying to feed their family in these tough times, it does affirm the advice of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who told us to "trust in the slow work of God." Everyone who has waited on God has been blessed in one way or another, and usually not in ways they had planned.
This, I believe is the blessing of waiting - it forces us to rely on God and nothing else, not our own thoughts, plans, or ideas. Instead, we must transform our waiting from a time of frustration to a time of complete trust in the Holy.
Theologian Henri Nouwen wrote: "For many people, waiting is an awful desert between where they are and where they want to go." What waiting teaches us, however, is how to be at home in the desert, how to embrace this time of dryness and uncertainty and instead of being impatient for its end, sink deeper into the sweet mystery of right now.
This is where I find myself at the moment - in the desert struggling between overwhelming worry and total surrender to God's will. Perhaps, for the first time in my life, I deeply understand the importance of Advent, and what it truly means to yearn for a savior.
The Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge is the associate pastor at Garden of Grace UCC in Columbia, SC, and is leading a new parish extension called Jubilee! Circle. She is also the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass.