On Waiting

Blog Published: December 3, 2006
By Sister Julie

One of my IHM sisters just told me this quote as we walked home from Mass of the First Sunday of Advent:

“She also serves who sits and waits.”

The homily was about how waiting and anticipation are good things, even though in our society we often rush, rush, rush. She said how many of our sisters said this when sisters were waiting to speak with the superior. Isn’t it a great thought? … that by our waiting we are serving.


Archived Comments

Kelly December 3, 2006 at 11:55 am

This speaks to me. In Jungian analysis, we learn a term called “hold the tension.” It’s for when you are faced with two choices (or you think there are only two). Instead of acting on one, wait. This gives space for the rise of the transcendent function. I like to put this in my own terminology. Let go and let God. God needs our waiting as much as our action. K

Chris December 4, 2006 at 9:18 am

Think about all the time you have to think or maybe pray when you are waiting. It makes waiting turn from a frustration to yearned for moments of solitude in the everyday world. Waiting used to kill me. And sometimes, I think it still does. But in society waiting is seen as something bad, so embracing it is pretty rebellious and healthy.

Brigid Wade IHM December 4, 2006 at 10:52 am

I agree no one likes to wait. Sitting in a line of traffic or standing in the grocery line. It is sometimes funny to watch people going from line to line thinking that line will be shorter. For me the reason I hate to wait is because I have no control! People do not like to be out of control. So society hates waiting, because we humans are control freaks!

leia thomas March 3, 2008 at 9:00 pm

I love this sharing about *waiting* Its seems to be what the mind does to manage the unknown. I have discovered when I fully embrace the feeling of waiting there is no gap of separation between now and whatever the mind thinks its waiting for. Waiting is really another opportunity to fully be here, to be one with all of life.

Sister Julie March 4, 2008 at 4:55 am

Thanks for writing, Leia — a beautiful reflection on what waiting means to you. Sister J

Jeff May 13, 2009 at 5:37 am

I think of my grandmother who died a few years ago at the age of 96. She spent the last four years of her life in a nursing home, where she struggled with physical frailness and dementia. She couldn’t do much more than sit in her chair, yet every time I visited her, she greeted me with a smile, a kiss and “Hello, honey. I’ve been waiting for you.” In those later years, she exuded warmth, love and and a sometimes wicked sense of humor (one that she never showed us in earlier years). She also prayed constantly. There were many days when my brothers, parents and I would visit her and unburden ourselves with something we needed her to pray for. We always knew that whether it was big or small, if we asked her to, Grandma would be praying. Now that she has moved on to heaven, the memory of her in her chair with the rosary in her hands makes me think of a quote I once read that said “To pray much is to love much.”

Nathalie May 13, 2009 at 5:05 am

Patience is a virtue.

Sr. Marcia May 13, 2009 at 7:33 am

I immediately thought of the story of Mary and Martha. In my mind Martha is the older sister who is being “responsible”, making sure that she meets the physical needs of Jesus and those around Him. Mary is sitting at His feet, listening to and being present to Jesus. To me being present to people however they are feeling and regardless of what they are saying is being most Christ-like and most difficult. God bless you, Sr. Julie, as you stay present to your friend.

Sister Gayle OSF May 13, 2009 at 6:57 am

Jeff, that was beautiful.

Another Sister Julie, CSSF May 13, 2009 at 6:58 am

This is so appropos right now. My dear classmate was diagnosed with cancer two days ago. Right now, there is nothing to do for her while she plots out her treatment with her surgeon–nothing, that is, except to sit and wait and encourage and love and hold her close in prayer and thought.

sarah May 13, 2009 at 8:30 am

I think about the present moment in my life. I am having to sit and wait to where God wants to take me,not knowing where or when. It is often difficult being patient. It comes with sacrifices and becoming vulnerable to God. Also, I am having to let go of my own desires and let him reveal his desires for me. Each day, God has something for me to do and I have to search for the gift that he wants me to give to him daily. I know that God is holding my hand as each step I take in this journey that will end in peace. God Bless all of you!

Christopher May 13, 2009 at 9:37 am

If I may change the quotation, on account of my gender, to ‘He also serves who sits and waits’, it means to me that God’s personal calling is first and foremost to be with him; it is a call to being rather than doing; an invitation simply to be in his presence. Only out of this stillness and being in him can I be genuinely responsive to God’s call to action, so I hope that I serve while I sit and wait.

Because our culture (oops, there’s that word again) glorifies doing at the expense of being, prayer can easily get turned into another kind of activity. I can be tempted to measure it by its usefulness, and to think of it as getting things done. But in my heart I know that prayer is an end in itself, an invitation to waste time gracefully. It’s my response to an inner longing for God, sitting and waiting, whereas much of my busyness is a response to a vaguely guilty feeling that I need to ‘achieve something’. Sitting and waiting in prayer, by contrast, is ‘useless’ – although I know that nothing is more important!

I thank God that, for some people, His personal calling is simply to this contemplative dimension of life, a call to being rather than doing. Their calling is to witness by what they are, and by their style of life, to this dimension of existence in God. Maybe God calls some of you exclusively to this because its importance as one aspect of life for all of us is so little realised in our activist world.

katney May 13, 2009 at 12:18 pm

I remember a poem many years ago which included that. The particular one referred to those waiting and praying for loved ones to come home from war. It was taken then and converted to those teenagers who babysit, allowing parents a needed night out. Sitting and waiting has changed since then. We all have so many places to go, people to see. but it is no less a service to sit and wait. But it all comes back to Milton’s sonnet “On His Blindness”:

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

I think it sums it up nicely.

Karen May 13, 2009 at 4:15 pm

To me this means giving up the illusion of control, especially when something bad has happened. To just sit and wait – for guidance, strength, the motivation to go on one more minute in light of what you’re facing. It is to sit and wait for God to settle into the situation and help to unravel it one day at a time – for that, I have to wait. I can’t have the whole answer in one serving.

marla May 13, 2009 at 7:57 pm

waiting is so hard. i am waiting, physically unable now to do anything more, really, and nothing has ever been more difficult. waiting, i grapple with fear of what is to come. i yearn to hear god’s whisper. waiting is the hardest service there is, and the end of the waiting is timeless.

Melissa May 13, 2009 at 11:32 pm

I can really appreciate this quote today; my grandfather is in the hospital and not expected to live. I’ve been with him everyday, and since we have said all we want to one another in preparation of his passing there is nothing I can do for him but sit quietly and just “be” with him. It’s a reassuring thought that just sitting quietly and waiting is an act of service, especially to someone that has been such a servent to others in his life.

Robyn tssf May 14, 2009 at 2:05 am

This quote often came up for me when I was struggling with chronic pain and illness. I was trying to learn to pray through the pain – finding God in that very dark place where no-one could accompany me; the despair, the physical pain, the loss of sense of self. It was a waiting time as I had no sense of God’s presence and yet I knew by faith that God was with me there in the darkness. It was just too dark for me to see where God was. I was standing and waiting – well, lying and waiting as I couldn’t stand sometimes! – but waiting, trusting that God knew what was going on. And God did. But it was really hard!

Shannon S. May 14, 2009 at 6:24 am

With Pentecost coming up (and since it is one of my favorite liturgical celebrations), I’ve been reflecting lately on the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, and in the lives of my friends and family. I feel that quote is an invitation to listen to the Spirit, and sometimes it takes a long time (at least for me!) to figure out what the Spirit is asking of me. But, the time spent listening is a gift in itself.

I loved reading all of the comments so far. My favorite line is about prayer being an invitation to “waste time gracefully” from Christopher. That’s a wonderful way to put it!

Fiona May 15, 2009 at 3:54 am

Thy will be done… sugar and milk?

I agree with Sister Marcia, this reminds me immediately of Martha and Mary. When the parish priest visited us when I was a child, everything stopped, the TV went off, the phone was ignored, the fire went on and we hastily put out tea and biscuits to sit and listen to him chatting for hours.

I can recognise the need Martha had to be proactive and serve food and prepare her home for her important visitor as it was such an important aspect of her culture.

However since I was a little girl it always astounded me that with Jesus Christ, the Son of God in her home, in person, talking to her, that she did not sit at his feet and listen as Mary did. This is service to which we are all called and worthy of. Would I busy myself in the kitchen if Jesus came to visit, in person today? I hope not, although I might quickly make him a cup of tea.

As a wife and mother of two who also has a calling to contemplative life I always struggle that I am serving in a practical way and not taking enough time to sit and listen. I always have something practical to do and I hate to waste a minute.

Often in modern work and family life we are too busy to hear God’s will as we get on with life’s practicalities. Yes we can offer up the work we do but it is also important to make time (we are not wasting it) and take a leaf from Mary’s book and sit and listen to God’s will through prayer and contemplation….and wait for His answer instead of rushing around trying to find it ourselves.

Christopher May 17, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Just one more thought. Here in UK the expression ‘keeping busy’ (which is the opposite of sitting and waiting) is invariably used in an optimistic sense. So if I pass a neighbour in the street and say ‘How are you?’ he might well reply ‘Keeping busy!’ One of these days I’ll respond by saying, ‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear that!’

Carol May 18, 2009 at 9:55 pm

Today this quote allows me to ponder those who serve in the major transitional times of life..birth and death. I serve as a birth doula or birth guardian (a.k.a. professional birth assistant). At times there is much sitting and waiting patiently, witnessing, praying and opening. This is time spent in deep reverence, in service.

I am also contemplating those who serve those who are nearing the end of life and their loved ones. I had the privilege of sitting vigil with both of my grandmas during their final days.

Christopher, I appreciate your words. ” . . . call to being rather than doing.” So important!

Elizabeth May 21, 2009 at 5:27 pm

That waiting is an activity. As a society, we don’t give waiting it’s fair due. Ask anyone in any waiting room in any hospital. They are busy waiting. Sometimes t0 sit there and wait IS what you are suppose to do.

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