For my family and so many others, 2020 has been the year of waiting. But even before the rest of the country entered the seemingly endless waiting game of the pandemic, we kicked off the new year waiting for the birth of our third child.
Shortly after New Year’s, my wife, Theresa, and 3-year-old daughter, Maddie, constructed a garland-like strand of “Love You Loops” and taped them up on our kitchen wall. For the uninitiated, this is a craft activity from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood that allows children to visualize how long their parent will be out of town on a business trip. For our purposes, it is used as a countdown to something exciting—in this case, the birth of a new baby brother.
Every day, Maddie removed a loop and looked inside to see what exciting (or mundane, honestly) activity would be happening on that day as we continued to wait for the actual big day. After all, waiting for their new sibling becomes a lot more tolerable for a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old when a “Love You Loop” turns a random Saturday into a Donuts Saturday.
To further test our family’s ability to wait, our son arrived several days late, outlasting the loops and forcing an extra donut run for appeasement (and pregnancy cravings). When our son Sammy finally showed up on the second day of Lent, we joked about how our newborn-induced quarantining-before-it-was-cool coincided quite perfectly with the Catholic season of waiting, fasting, and abstinence.
Then came COVID-19 to ensure that Lent 2020 would become a more penitential season than even the most pious among us had anticipated. The pandemic derailed our meal trains and dashed our hopes of introducing our newborn son to any of our extended family and friends any time soon.
So we waited.
Waiting for something without a set end point can be excruciating.
We waited to return to restaurants. We waited to return to in-person Mass. We waited to play on playgrounds. We waited to have our new baby baptized. We waited to take vacations. We waited to celebrate weddings. We waited for test results when exposed to people who were exposed. We waited for a vaccine. Mostly, we waited for all of this to be behind us.
If we learned anything from our initial months of social distancing and sheltering in place, it was the simple truth that waiting for something without a set endpoint can be excruciating. At the same time, it can also help you appreciate the things that are certain in your life.
We appreciated nightly walks through our neighborhood and met people who lived just a few houses down whom we had never spoken with before. We appreciated our feelings of missing the Eucharist and confession, which restored the reverent thrill we should always feel when we were finally able to partake in those sacraments again. We appreciated my working from home, which eliminated a two-hour roundtrip commute for me and meant a lot more family togetherness at a crucial time for our growing brood. We more fully appreciated the domestic church of our family, or perhaps appreciated it for the first time. This is where holiness happens and where love is best put into practice.
So now we approach Advent, the last waiting period of 2020, a year that most people would probably rather rush to finish. But I hope we don’t rush through Advent, because it’s the best kind of waiting we’ll do all year, and it has a defined endpoint. Advent was always a special season during my childhood, as Catholic and secular traditions blended into a holy time of anticipation and excitement—for family gatherings, seasonal music, lights, trees, Lessons and Carols, nativities, movies, gifts—and, of course, the true endpoint of the Advent season culminating in that most important of beginnings.
I’m hoping to create a similar environment as my children grow in their understanding of this season. We’ve done a lot of waiting in our little domestic church this year, and it’s time to put that experience to good use as a teachable moment about our anticipation of Christ’s birth. We’re trading in our “Love You Loops” for Advent calendars and Advent wreaths. This is not idle waiting for circumstances beyond our control to improve, this is the very heart of our faith—that God loves us so much that God sent our savior in the form of a child—and the anticipatory joy we feel to commemorate that baby’s birth each year.
I hope we don’t rush through Advent, because it’s the best kind of waiting we’ll do all year.
Throughout the pandemic, my children have taught me so much about how to live out the faith and trust that are required of those who are truly waiting in joyful hope. When we tell them that “the sickness” will end eventually, they believe it, even when there is no deadline given or any confirming details a rational person would otherwise demand. They have faith in our words and in our love for them. They trust that we will not lead them astray.
When the angel appeared to Mary, and later Joseph, proclaiming tidings of great joy—but also seeming insanity—they both also trusted in God’s words and love. That trust took them to Bethlehem, Egypt and beyond. It took Mary from the serenity of a stable to the desolation of the foot of a cross to the exultant vindication of an empty tomb.
That trust is what should get each one of us out of bed every morning—whether we’re working from home, tending to the chaos of raising young children, or questioning when our lives will ever return to “normal.” Pandemic or no pandemic, God is not calling us to a normal life but rather is calling us to trust in something extraordinary so that our lives might serve a higher purpose and we ultimately spend eternity with God. And if you want to get there, you have to learn how to wait.
This article also appears in the December issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 85, No. 12, pages 43-44). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.
Image: Flickr/Emily Orpin