When I was in 4th Grade, my Sunday school teacher said, “If you pray, then God will answer your prayers.” And so, that week, I prayed. I prayed every day that the very next Sunday, my Grandpa would come to church.
My family had attended that church for years, since the time when the neighborhood pastor came knocking at my Grandma’s front door, and she thought to herself that it might just be a good idea to send her girls to Sunday School. Church policy didn’t allow parents to drop their kids off and pick them up later, so my grandma stayed. Forty years later she still calls that church her home.
But my Grandpa – he wasn’t about to step foot in any church. He was a gruff and stubborn kind of guy. But if my teacher was right, then when I prayed, God would answer, and I would sit next to him in church on Sunday.
Sunday came, and as I walked through the doors I remember eagerly looking around to see if he was there. He wasn’t – yet. I sat down. The service began. And eagerly I waited. I turned around to sneak peaks at the back doors once, twice, three times… and when the sermon started I finally resigned myself to this truth: my Grandpa wasn’t coming. I had prayed, but God hadn’t answered.
My Grandma, however, didn’t give up her praying. While she didn’t talk about it much with us, it became clear to me that she talked with God all the time – and saw reason to hope. When my Grandpa made a new friend who just “happened” to be a Christian; when his brother Bill occasionally talked about Jesus; even that time when the Jeopardy! category was “Old Testament Stories” and we grandkids knew all the answers – these things gave her hope as she waited, watched in expectant longing, and prayed for my grandpa’s salvation.
This story of waiting, praying, hoping, longing is an Advent story. My 4th grade self didn’t have the capacity or understanding to wait on God in longing and expectation. My grandma, however, did. Eugene Peterson writes that God trains us in this kind of waiting, longing, watching, and praying because this is what enlarges our capacity to trust. “We are enlarged in the waiting” he writes, “We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy” (Romans 8:22, The Message).
My grandma’s heart was enlarged in the waiting. For over 30 years she longed, prayed, waited… and just before he died, when his brother Bill came to visit him in the hospital, my Grandpa accepted Jesus. He never made it through the doors of my church, but the Lord welcomed him home anyway.
In Advent we practice waiting. In the waiting we groan over the sufferings of this present world, and we long for complete healing and restoration for ourselves and our loved ones (Romans 8:18-24). And alongside the waiting and the longing, we engage in expectant celebration. Jesus was born. Salvation is here. As we wait for Jesus to come again, we are “enlarged in the waiting”, growing in our capacity for greater trust as we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.”
– Lisa Igram