Advent is a perfect liturgical season to apply what we have learned and understand about the spirituality of waiting – its purpose and gift for us from God. Because taking a lofty spiritual concept can be difficult to break down in terms of practical application to everyday living, it’s important to understand particular steps that can assist us in using our seasons of waiting with intention.
This Advent, try to be sincere in your effort to wait with purpose. Turn to God with these five ways of entering into dialogue with him as only a guideline to understand more deeply what he is asking of you or telling you in your time of waiting.
A brief preface of these five steps is this: You may enter into the first few cyclically for months or even years before you reach the prepare phase. This is because preparation often requires a very refined and fine-tuned faith in which God will chisel and prune you in order to move you closer to a specific call or mission.
We can never expect to glean clarity in our uncertainty or holy tension if we don’t regularly enter into the sanctuary of our own hearts, nestled in silence. Solitude is absolutely imperative for us to hear God speak to our hearts.
Though it’s difficult to do in my current state as a wife and mother to three young daughters, I create a sacred space every day to enter into the heart of God through silence. This is how I begin my daily prayers and devotions. I gather my prayer journal, daily inspirational flip calendar, liturgical companion Magnificat, and seasonal devotions, if applicable. Then I breathe and gaze at an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus mounted above our holy water font in the living room.
Listening means we turn our ears toward another. We must eliminate every distraction possible if we are to effectively hear that “still, small voice” within.
Sometimes God is silent when we seek him in solitude, but there are occasions when he will give you a bold message. Prepare yourself for all sorts of surprises led by the Holy Spirit! When you read Scripture, and a particular word or phrase or passage really jolts or sears your heart, pay attention. Write it down and mull it over for a few moments.
Ask some questions about it. For example, while I was writing Waiting with Purpose, the words “wait” or “be still” or “trust in the Lord” came to me frequently during the listening and pondering stages of prayer. I kept asking God what he wanted to teach me and wrote down the thoughts that inspired the book.
After you formulate some questions, bring them directly to the Lord in conversation. Pour your heart out to him – your fears and doubts, your anxiety or concerns, your excitement or restlessness. Give him everything that flows forth as you delve more deeply into your own heart in search of his.
You are conversing with the Divine, so there’s no need for format or formulae here. It’s just your heart language speaking to God’s heart.
This stage will likely lead you back to listening, pondering, asking more questions, and praying again. You will likely engage in this process for quite some time before advancing to the last two.
Over time, you might discern that God is asking something specific of you. Everyone’s mission will look different, of course. But the point is that you receive a divine assignment, based on the pattern of listening to and speaking with God.
If and when this happens, you will need to find a good spiritual director if you haven’t already. This person needs to be objective in matters of guiding you more deeply into accepting your holy assignment and discovering what that means. Think of St. Teresa of Calcutta whom Jesus asked to found an order serving the “poorest of the poor.” Or St. Teresa of Avila who heard the Lord tell her to reform the Carmelite order.
God asks some people today to become overseas missionaries, write books, enter into a specific vocation, found a non-profit, lead a parish ministry, and so on. Regardless of the assignment, know that he has something specific in mind for you. Be attentive and vigilant like the wise virgins who kept their oil ready for the Bridegroom’s arrival.
Again, you will need a spiritual director to guide you before you actually go forth to begin your mission or ministry. The point is to be ready for whatever God asks of you. It seems as if waiting lingers forever, but once God acts in your life, he moves quickly. This isn’t always the case, but you will find that timing is such an important piece to your waiting experience.
This post is an abridged version of Chapter 6 in my book, Waiting with Purpose: Persevering When God Says “Not Yet.”