This is my last post (for now!) in this little series about the surprising spiritual disciplines that are shaping my faith lately. You can read all the posts in this series here!
Waiting is not really a talent of mine. I can be very patient with people (especially children)—repeat myself, try again, try again again, ask another question. But when it comes to time—the slow but sudden passage of it, flipping calendar pages as you wait to arrive at a certain date—I don’t do so well. Both Ian and Leo hung out in my womb with absolutely zero regard for their due dates, and that waiting was the most miserable part of pregnancy. I was convinced that the babies were coming and then…they didn’t. So I waited. It was hard.
In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin wrote that part of the joy of experiencing something comes from anticipating it and reflecting on it. Maybe this is why we love Christmas so much—the anticipation—and why we feel so let down when it’s over—we don’t take enough time to reflect before moving on to our resolutions and new gym memberships. (Maybe people who observe the 12 days of Christmas really are onto something.)
The past year has been challenging, and I’ve spent a good many days struggling with anxiety, feeling lonely, and wrestling with my role as a mom or a writer or friend a children’s ministry person or…whatever I am.
Along the way, I’ve learned that it’s a bad idea for me to wake up in the morning and think, “What am I going to do today?” I’m sure some people would revel and rejoice in being able to ask that question and not be 100% sure of the answer. For me, the open-ended feeling like I’m floating without a tether. I become anxious, uneasy, and even depressed. I do better with a plan, even if it’s as simple as “grocery shopping in the morning and respond to those emails during nap time.”
We had some good friends visit us in July, and anticipating their visit really buoyed me through the spring and summer. After their visit, my friend Melissa asked me, “So, what are you looking forward to now?” It was an important question, and it’s remained so in the months that followed.
This act of literally and figurative looking forward helps me tap into joy and peace on a daily basis, and so it’s become a very real spiritual discipline in my life.
As I thought about this more, I realized that Scripture gives some credence to the idea of anticipation as spiritual discipline. In Psalm 30, David writes, “…weeping may last for the night, but rejoicing comes with the morning.” On the one hand, David’s speaking figuratively to proclaim the truth that suffering and pain are temporary. But on the other hand, inherent in this idea is the necessity of looking forward, of not ignoring our pain but of embracing hope by looking toward the morning. Joy is just around the bend.
Jesus taught his disciples about this, too. In John 14, the disciples are growing despondent as the reality of Jesus’ impending death sinks in. To comfort them, Jesus tells them to look forward to what’s coming. He tells them he’s coming back one day (verse 3), they are going to do good work in his absence (verses 12-14), and that he’s going to send the Holy Spirit (verses 16-17).
“Don’t get too caught up in the past,” he seems to say. “Even better things are coming.”
At first, I wondered if this continual emphasis on literal and figurative looking forward would make it difficult for me to enjoy the present, but I’ve found the opposite to be true.
As I’ve learned to joyfully anticipate each season and important calendar dates, I’ve also learned the value of anticipating even small pleasures: a cold glass of iced coffee in the afternoon, lighting a candle while I cook dinner, a new episode of my favorite podcast, picking up holds from the library. The spiritual discipline of anticipation taught me to appreciate these small gifts in the midst of ordinary time, which might otherwise become commonplace or unappreciated. And when something I’ve been looking forward to transpires, I am more grateful for it.
When Christians talk about the kingdom of God, we often use the phrase “now, but not yet” to illustrate the reality that Jesus is currently at work among us, redeeming and restoring, but the work isn’t yet complete. Is there anything that illustrates anticipation better than that? We recognize the present joy, goodness, and peace that’s being built among us, but don’t forget we have a long way to go. Anticipating the kingdom and bringing it to fruition is how we joyfully participate in what Jesus is up to.