Advent: The Waiting Place

Preparing for kindergarten story time, my classmates and I sat criss-cross-applesauce on the floor, my heart thrilling in anticipation of a new story. My teacher, a bright, loving woman, settled her pleasantly plump frame on a low stool on the reading rug, and a hush fell over the room. Slowly, tantilizingly, she reached into the basket of books. (There was a penalty for not staying in a seated position: violators were banished from the reading rug, relegated to a distinctly unmagical orange plastic chair. Nonetheless, I tempted fate, lifting my bottom off the ground as I got to my knees, straining to catch a glimpse of the book of the day. . . .)

And then, oh glory! The plastic library book sleeve crackling at her touch, my beautiful teacher pulled her hand out of the basket: Green Eggs and Ham. Why, God, why? Why read Dr. Seuss when we could do ANYTHING else? Inept at crafts as I am, I would rather have woven another construction-paper placemat than look at those trippy color schemes and listen to that relentless rhyming.

I don't like Dr. Seuss. I never have. Though I adore word play and fantastic adventures, Dr. Seuss has simply never appealed to me. I'm open to conversion, though; all you Theodor Seuss Geisel fans, feel free to leave persuasive comments below. From kindergarten on, Dr. Seuss has pursued me. Like 95% of all high school seniors, I received Oh, the Places You’ll Go! as a graduation gift. I vaguely appreciated the enthusiasm and encouragement in the book's message, but the book did not change my attitude toward Dr. Seuss. In fact, as Advent approaches each year, I think about a section of that book describing "The Waiting Place," and I feel the gap between me and the author widen. Here's the text:

[You'll be] headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.

The Waiting Place...

...for people just waiting.

Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or the waiting around for a Yes or No

or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for the wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

That's not for you!
Somehow you'll escape
all that waiting and staying
You'll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.

I understand that Dr. Seuss' depiction of The Waiting Place intends to jolt slothful people out of their lethargy. The book as a whole is an ode to success, and of course no one succeeds by passively waiting for others to create opportunities. However, life involves an astonishing amount of waiting, and pretending otherwise shrinks the soul. Dr. Seuss himself had to wait for the letter carrier to deliver 27 separate rejection notices to his mailbox before someone offered at last to publish his first book. Presumably he was pounding the pavement, actively peddling his manuscript to publishers rather than "just waiting." But I propose there is no such thing as "just waiting." Waiting, when actively prayerful, soaks deep into our souls and opens our hearts to greater trust. Advent reminds us of the beauty of waiting.

Advent calls us to thoughtful, prayerful, active waiting. True, sitting around passively marking time doesn't help us do anything but take up space--and maybe that's what horrifies Dr. Seuss: that passivity, that impotence. Essentially, waiting means someone else has power over us. Never having to wait is a sign of power. Can you imagine Bill Gates sitting in a waiting room at the doctor's office? Or standing in line at the airport? In our culture, the less important we are, the longer we have to wait. Not many US senators have been sitting at their computers waiting for the site to start working so they can finally purchase insurance. Waiting cedes power to others. But there is nothing to despise or fear, here; active waiting accepts our powerlessness, chooses it, considers it a gift.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, St. Paul shares the words God spoke to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul responds: "I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong."
Waiting means we are not ultimately in control. Advent gives our hearts the chance to be okay with that. Letting others be in charge is difficult for many of us, though it's easier to be a follower when the leader is righteous, gracious, perfectly good, and self-sacrificing. God our Lord deserves all our trust. Ironically, he is the one who waits so patiently for us to turn to him, to trust him with our weakness. The Waiting Place may seem useless or scary, but God is already there, with a seat saved for each one of us.


Make Me Your Manger

Dear Baby Jesus, 
When you were born, you had no crib, 
No cozy sheets to sleep in. 
The animals helped to keep you warm, 
And Joseph and Mary’s swaddling.

I was not there to see you smile, 
Or to touch your tiny feet; 
So now I seek your loving Heart 
In everyone I meet. 

This Advent candle shines your light, 
Your brightness everywhere. 
I am a child, just like you were— 
Please hear my Advent prayer: 

I would like to be your crib; 
Rest in me, Lord, I pray. 
Make me your manger to cradle you, 
and hold you every day.