Guest commentary by Lee Ann M. Pomrenke
Waiting is not wasting time. Or at least it does not need to be.
When I began a new interim pastorate in the ELCA in January 2020, our bishop advised the leadership council: “Let’s not waste this excellent time of upheaval.” Little did she know how much upheaval there would be. Our instincts may be to try to make transitions as smooth as possible, and appease anyone who is uncomfortable. Yet when we see a waiting period merely as a time to get through, we miss the benefits. Whether it is a wait for a new settled pastor or waiting out a global pandemic, the waiting itself can change us — if we will let it.
As we await the birth of Jesus – and anticipate his return – during Advent, we are invited not only to endure or get through it, but to be transformed by the waiting. After all, we are preparing for the miracle of incarnation: God becoming human and, like us, being impacted by relationships. What might that also mean for waiting out the COVID-19 pandemic? This grief and loss should change us. Some of our relationships are ending over irreconcilable differences. The new ways we are learning to support each other need not just drop off when we can move about freely again. Searching for a pastor or not, congregations are all in an interim period as we are learning to be church in new ways, and discovering the weaknesses in how we used to function. We are not just holding our breath and counting down until we can get back to “normal.” We are changing in the midst of this. The pandemic is preparing us to be raised again to new life as the Body of Christ. The waiting is changing us.
Those who have experienced the wait to become parents may feel the trepidation and excitement of Advent in our bodies as well as our hearts and minds. My husband and I were determined to adopt, and waiting through that process was a combination of near-despair that we were going nowhere and sudden movement. It was early practice in giving up control, a daily pattern in raising children. That sense of endlessness and sudden change is always on the periphery of my mind as a mother, reminding me that the only reliable plan is my family’s commitment to love each other through whatever comes next.
Mary waited during her pregnancy to find out how her child would change her life: how she moved in the world and how others would respond to her because of him. But that gestation period was not a waste of time. By waiting in such uncertainty for herself and adding in the empire-wide mandate to uproot herself and journey for the census right when her time was upon her, she was prepared for what it was like to be the mother of Jesus, the Christ-bearer. At once her child would belong to everyone – for the whole world – and no one but God. She was unwittingly being prepared to raise a child whose actions and being would redefine God’s relationship with us, and all the relationships of those who follow him.
God waits on us. Throughout Scripture, God waits for human beings to act on our independence and to choose which way to go, even when it is against God’s guidance. God waits to discipline us or correct our course in various ways, because for us to love and honor God, we cannot be coerced. God waits, and what happens during the wait changes the story. That waiting is not always peaceful, either. Scripture describes God crying out in labor pains – along with all of creation – waiting for a renewed, embodied relationship with humankind. It is painful to push forward to this new reality. But the waiting for this new kind of presence among humanity, through God’s own child Jesus, was preparation for giving up control. Feeling out of control in the midst of the excruciating waiting period of 2020 is not meaningless, but a time to learn — however unbidden the lessons are. We wait with hope, because the birth of Jesus has shown us: Waiting is the preparation for every challenging, life-changing relationship.
May God bless your wait.
LEE ANN M. POMRENKE is the interim pastor at All Saints Lutheran Church in Eagan, Minnesota, and the author of the book “Embodied: Clergy Women and the Solidarity of a Mothering God.”