When my girls were small we had a favorite waiting-for-Christmas tradition: a fabric “calendar” with a little stuffed mouse that moved forward one pocket each night. Even when they were old enough to have cell phones and day planners we hung up that calendar. It was a fun and meaningful way for them to mark the passage of time. The church has designated this waiting-for-Christmas period as the season of Advent, a season of waiting. Advent is filled with texts about the coming of the Savior, and the coming-again of the Savior. It is not a passive sit back and wait – it is an active, waiting-and-watching season of life.
I spent two Advent seasons “great with child.” Pregnancy is the epitome of active waiting: preparation for an unknown but beloved person to arrive, preparation for the needs of the tiny guest and all those affected by her birth, and watching for signs of her imminent arrival. Evaluating every twitch, itch and tickle, watching for the labor pains that would deliver her to this world. Alert, watchful, making preparations, it was Advent come to life.
In the instant culture of the 21st century, waiting is rare, and most of us don't know how to wait well. I have been driving a lot the last couple of weeks and in at least 4 states I saw signs for hospital emergency rooms with “approximate wait times” displayed in digital lights that changed with circumstances in the ER. More and more babies are induced or delivered by C-section at a time mutually convenient for doctor and mother. Kindles and Nooks make waiting for the library to open, or for Amazon to ship, a thing of the past. Waiting has become so uncommon that last week's Facebook status updates featured a lot of comments about traffic, lines and waiting – because it was unusual.
In the end, we are all waiting for the great unknowable visitor - death, whose arrival cannot be predicted, but there is a more immediately relevant reason for deliberately teaching our children to wait: it is good for them. Many years ago a study found that the ability to wait, to delay gratification, was a significant predictor of future success (measured by normal, American standards such as getting a job, finishing school, forming lasting relationships,etc.) Check out this clip from a recent repeat of The Marshmallow Test.
Can your child wait? Can you help him learn to wait? Since there is so much to wait for with Christmas coming, this is a natural time to practice. Practice the old swimming rule of thumb - wait for 30 minutes after eating. Remember how endless that seemed? Yet all the time it was helping us learn to wait. Try meeting a “Can I” question with “I have to think about it; I will tell you in 30 minutes” or, “we'll talk about it after you've finished your homework/chores/project.” If your children have had very limited waiting experience, this may prove difficult for them, but you will be blessing them for life.
Welcome to the Waiting Season, your estimated wait time is 24 days. . .