It’s Advent again – the season of waiting. This year, our waiting takes on a special focus – we are awaiting the arrival of our first grandchild.
Actually, Francine has been waiting for at least a decade for this child to arrive. Byron however, is still in deep denial – he’s far too young and carefree to possibly be a grandfather.
Our friends congratulate us like we have pulled off some incredible feat, much to the amusement of our daughter and son-in-law. Francine receives it all gladly and Byron just finds the whole thing puzzling.
Normally, Advent rushes through our life in a missed opportunity. The end of year functions, graduations, wrap up of the work year and prepping for the wind-down over the Summer: it’s all packed into December and we generally stumble into Christmas Eve in an exhausted heap.
Advent is generally so busy we don’t have the mental space to connect with the spiritual longing for a Messiah that is a hallmark of the season.
For us this year Advent is most definitely different. We will have our very own flesh and blood Christmas grandbaby to make the miracle of Christ-made-flesh even more real.
Already we feel the difference; we are literally preparing our home and our hearts (and our cars) to welcome this precious new addition to the family. Each day Francine checks in with our daughter to get the update and we have our labour prayer candles ready to light when the message comes through that it has begun.
If this child is anything like her mother, he or she will delay their entry until well past the due date to Christmas Eve, adding to our anticipation.
All this waiting, all this anticipation, leads us to reflect on the benefit, the gift, of waiting in a world otherwise obsessed with instant gratification.
As parents, we already know the value for our children of encouraging in them a capacity for self-restraint and self-mastery. Psychological studies also demonstrate that the ability to delay gratification among young children is one of the key indicators of future success.
However delayed gratification is not just good for forming virtue in children; it is equally good for we adults, and our marriages have no shortage of opportunities if we are aware enough to see and take advantage of them.
There are the trivial things like waiting to have dinner until we are both at home together. This ‘mini-Advent’ is a simple matter but is a powerful discipline that speaks of love to the one for whom we wait.
There are also other more significant aspects where the capacity to wait with grace is important. For example, we often choose to wait even though we are urgent to talk with the other about something. It’s so easy to assume that if I have something important to discuss or say then I have a right to be heard – NOW!
This attitude would be unacceptable if applied to our sexual relationship, so why would be acceptable in our verbal one?
Waiting engages our thoughtfulness so that we can seek a time when the other is in a ‘place’ to have the conversation we need to have with them, rather than imposing it on them at an inopportune moment. We’ve learnt the hard way that ‘demanding’ a conversation with one who is not ready for it rarely works.
Moreover, this delay also provides the person waiting with additional time to more fully explore what we are wanting to communicate. So often when we blurt it out our thoughts are still unformed. Emotions are more likely to be intense and poorly expressed in ways that offend.
So, the self-mastery required to delay in this example has benefits coming from all sides.
Another important ‘waiting’ for couples is in the area of our sexual relationship.
Delaying our lovemaking until we are married is not a popular idea in the world, but it is fundamentally important to a Catholic marriage. Blindly following the culture that tells us waiting for marriage is pointless and ‘old fashioned’ robs us of developing a generous sense of self-control and selflessness that is a critical ingredient of any successful marriage.
A young couple who reserves their lovemaking for marriage, enhance the meaning of their lovemaking as they align it with the exchange of their wedding vows. Their ‘advent of restraint’ embeds within their marriage and inseparable connection between their vows and their lovemaking.
At a very practical level they are also practicing the very self-mastery that will help protect their marriage from future infidelity and breakdown. That’s not just an ambit claim; there is a growing body of research that demonstrates a correlation between sexual activity before marriage and the incidence of future divorce.
Of course, there are also periods of sexual waiting within marriage. A key part of successful use of a fertility awareness method of family planning involves couples restraining from lovemaking during times of the woman’s fertile window if their intention is to delay a pregnancy.
Interestingly the research shows that those practicing natural fertility methods, which come with their inevitable periods of restraint, make love as often as those who don’t; it’s just that the patterns are different.
Much to our initial surprise as a young couple at the time, our own experience in this area is consistent with what many others report – the intentional waiting involved has a net positive effect on our relationship as it enhances our appreciation of our intimacy.
Here’s the thing about waiting. Waiting builds anticipation and leads us to reflect on that for which we long. Whether it’s spiritual, emotional, relational or sexual, waiting helps us develop a deeper appreciation for the object of our anticipation. Waiting with grace (as opposed to waiting with resentment) gives greater value to that for which we long.
And so it is with Advent. Our patient waiting for the celebration of Christ’s birth builds our anticipation and helps us to more deeply appreciate the miracle of God coming to us in the flesh of an innocent and vulnerable baby.
Waiting is so good for us. This is evident in the heightened delight of children who have ‘endured’ required waiting as they open presents on Christmas day. Similarly, our enjoyment of Easter feasting is enhanced by the disciplines of Lenten fasting.
As we prepare for the world’s biggest birthday party, let’s all look for the different ‘advents’ in our lives and be more intentional with them as the coming year unfolds.