On Waiting, Wrestling, and Wondering
Maybe you’re like me and you have those students in Sunday School who yell out, “Jesus!”, “God!”, or “Love!” in response to every question you ask. Or, maybe your students engage the questions of Scripture with their hearts and imaginations in ways that lead you into awe and wonder of God. Or… maybe you’re somewhere in between.
This advent, I am struck by the nature of the season: a rhythm is built into our very church calendar to reflect and invite us to face the reality of darkness we live in as we long for Jesus to return (the “not-yet” portion of the “now-but-not-yet” time we live in). “How long, oh Lord?” is the refrain of this time as it has been in certain phases for so many people in the Bible. Abraham and Sarah wait for offspring; the Israelites cry out while in Egypt; Elizabeth waits in her barrenness; all of creation groans as in the pains of childbirth for redemption (Romans 8). The Bible is full of waiting.
Many of the ways Jesus responded to questions led to waiting on the behalf of the asker. He could have provided the answer that led to the knowing, to the security and comfort of being able to yell out a precise date for when the Kingdom will come! – much as our students yell out the “right” answers in Sunday School. But instead, we often see God invite His people to wait.
Yet it is not a lonely waiting, for Christmas has already come. The joy and mystery of the incarnation allows us to live in the tension of our longings and deep need while remembering that He is, in fact, Emmanuel: God with us. Now. He invited us into relationship in the beginning, He humbled Himself and entered into time and space to meet us right where we were in our mess, and He took on the depths of hell to put an end to anything that could separate us from Himself.
And how do we grow in relationship? Is it not the tension and confusion that eventually yields intimacy? Is it not walking together in the mess that lends to stories that unite? Is it not in looking back where we find hints of purpose and beauty speckled throughout our suffering and despair? Wrestling has to be one of the most essential elements of our faith. Whereas some religions tell their followers to comply and “question-not your god,” we follow a God who even answers questions with questions in Scripture, sometimes creating a whole new host of angles to consider, a whole other pile of questions. We follow a God who became a vulnerable baby – one who knew well the toils of being a human and met so many right in the middle of their suffering (think the woman at the well, blind Bartimaeus, the woman caught in adultery, the man with leprosy, Mary after Lazarus died). He seemed to have a million ways to be in relationship with the folks around Him, and I am convinced that their wrestling with God was one of them.
So how do we invite our students to wrestle with Scripture, to wrestle with the realities of their lives, and to wrestle with God?
I believe we need to consider the ways we ourselves are (or aren’t) wrestling. What are the issues we’ve put Jesus band-aids on, but haven’t really grappled with? Where are the places you say, “How long, oh Lord?” What are some questions we can offer our students to create space for them to enter (or become aware of) the sometimes confusing mysteries of a life that is following God? We need to allow doubt, and to walk alongside our students as they tackle the “why’s” of life and faith. We need to uncover the realities created by a technological age where instant access to information lends to much less wondering and attempting to remember.
I want to invite you into more curiosity this advent as you anticipate the light breaking into the darkness on December 25th. I want to invite you to remember where Jesus has shown up in unexpected ways in your life this year. I want to invite you to step toward an area of unresolved confusion or pain and to wait on Jesus there. I want to invite you to wonder at the God who works in far more ways we can imagine to make His glorious Love known.
I pray that your students would catch the robust faith in which you wait, wrestle, and wonder this Christmas.