March 2011

We have forgotten how to wait

Waiting is not something many of us do well, writes Monica Dutton. The call to “trust in the slow work of God” is counter-cultural to the pace of life in the twenty-first century.

BY Monica Dutton

We have forgotten how to wait.

Childhood waiting evokes memories of delightful anticipation – always of something wonderful. Birthdays, picnics, Christmas, Easter. In the purity and simplicity of a child’s waiting, time stands still – and is almost always rewarded with joy, happiness, peace and contentment.

From life’s lessons, however, we learn many things. Waiting can also be about frustration, fear and dread. For many, the light-headed waiting for Christmas morning has been replaced by the heart-wrenching wait for a doctor’s diagnosis, a judge’s decision, a phone call from an estranged child.

More recently, people very close to our hearts have waited for the inevitability of the approach of the fires around Perth, the rise of the Brisbane River, the arrival of Cyclone Yasi, and news of the fate of loved ones from under the debris of Christchurch.

Waiting is not something many of us do well. The call to “trust in the slow work of God”, as suggested by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, is counter-cultural to the pace of life in the twenty-first century. Socialising and shopping have been replaced by social networking and eBay. Time with family and friends is now secondary to ‘personal space’ and the individual pursuit of happiness.

It is even more counter-cultural to yet again respond in a positive way to the invitation to watch and wait in the season of Lent.

In 2011, waiting is more often by circumstance than by choice. We wait for trains, planes and buses – but that’s about it. The longing and anticipation of childhood waiting have been replaced by instant gratification. We wait for nothing. We appreciate even less. Acquisition breeds both complacency and discontent.

In our consumer-driven society, time is money. It is a world focused on productivity – where the measure of success is related to a compulsive pursuit of power, position and possessions.

The meaning of life is now defined by a person’s influence, affluence and the mentality of ‘the one who dies with the most toys wins’. This approach translates very clearly – waiting is idle, non-productive and therefore, largely a waste of time.

In many ways, waiting is defined by our position in society. The wealthy don’t wait – they don’t need to, they can’t ‘afford to’. They have an array of people on-call to service their every whim. At one time it was a case of ‘time and tide wait for no-one’ – we now seem to concede that ‘no-one who is anyone waits for anything’.

Waiting now seems to be the exclusive domain of the poor, the powerless, the voiceless. Detention centres, refugee camps, homeless shelters and refuges for abused women and children are filled with people who wait because they have no other choice. In many ways they wait for us …”to listen with the ear of our hearts” (St Benedict) and respond in solidarity to their silent scream for justice.

The waiting associated with the Lenten season in years gone by has changed radically. We are now called to a much more practical, compassionate and loving response to the times in which we live.

Jesus responded with love to the poor, the oppressed, the marginalised. His retreat into the desert to wait and to pray calls us to do the same. The invitation to each of us this Lenten season is to wait and pray in solidarity with the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst after justice, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness (cf Matthew 5:3-10) in our time and place.

We are called to wait with all of God’s people during Lent. Many of them wait in fear and dread, others in the hope of new life symbolised by the resurrection.

Our challenge this Lent is to remember how to wait. To watch and wait, to enter into the stillness – to reflect, renew and to respond to the call to love.

Monica Dutton

Monica Dutton has a background in education and has been working with the Sisters of the Good Samaritan for more than 20 years. She currently holds the position of Spirituality and Mission Animation Leader for the Congregation.

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