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Teach Your Children the Virtue of Waiting

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Editors’ note: 

To help your children learn to wait, check out Scott James’s new Advent book, The Littlest Watchman: Watching and Waiting for the Very First Christmas (The Good Book Company, 2017).

As soon as the last Thanksgiving turkey bone is gnawed clean, there’s only one thought on our minds: Christmas is coming.

In busy households, managing expectations for parents and children can be both a trial and a joy. But the season of Advent—the weeks encompassing the four Sundays leading up to Christmas—represents a wonderful opportunity to teach our children, and ourselves, about waiting, a vital but neglected virtue of the Christian life.

We live in a time of unprecedented haste. We have on-demand streaming, breaking news at every turn, and instant access to a vast array of information, goods, and services. The desire for speed is nothing new—the digital age has simply taken us to the next level in our pursuit of ever-more-instant gratification. But as the pace of our world only increases, what is it doing to our hearts?

As the pace of our world increases, what is it doing to our hearts?

Daily rhythms and habits lead to spiritual formation. Mindful of this, I feel the tension between the call to rest in Christ and the way my appetites, impatience, and love of convenience pull me in the opposite direction. Perhaps even more alarming, I see this tension in the lives of my children, who are growing up immersed in a culture of instant gratification.

If we allow ourselves to be shaped by a culture that views waiting as a vice and being made to wait an unpardonable offense, we’ll run contrary to the path Christ calls us to walk.

To push back against this on-demand mindset, here are two ways you can cultivate a more measured approach this Christmas.

Rest Is a Gift

First, remember that rest, contentment, stillness, and silence are gifts from God. In our thirst for activity and accomplishment, we can view these qualities with suspicion, as if they’re located on the slippery slope to sloth and laziness. But God has designed his creation with inherent patterns of work and rest. Jesus tells us that true rest can only be found with him; and whoever rests in him won’t fear the stillness it brings. The world calls us to incessant haste, but God calls us to make time to meditate on his character, his Word, and his works (Ps. 119:27).

Let Advent be a season of reflection rather than a season of rushing.

I don’t know about your household, but calmness and contentment aren’t always hallmarks of the Christmas season in my home. It’s easy to get caught up in the hectic buzz of the season, which is why it’s so vital to ensure we’re taking time to slow things down and draw our children’s attention to what’s most important: God’s faithfulness in bringing the long-awaited Messiah. With that gospel at the center, let Advent be a season of reflection rather than a season of rushing.

Waiting Again

Second, remember that the Christian life is a life of waiting. God’s people have always trusted in millennia-spanning promises—and God has a perfect track record of fulfilling them according to his own timetable. Yes, there are promises for the believer here and now, but so much of redemptive history is a story of future grace passed down from one generation to another. We’re called to wait on his promises and take the long view of faith.

The first Advent isn’t merely a history lesson. We’re still a waiting people.

The season of Advent is a wonderful time to rehearse this practice with your family. Think of the Israelites who for centuries looked and longed for the coming Messiah, passing down the promise to their children and grandchildren, but never seeing his arrival. How tempting it must have been to give up the watch! Yet many rested in faith and kept the lookout, trusting God would be faithful to his Word (Ps. 119:148). And indeed he was.

As your children excitedly wait for Christmas morning, look for opportunities to talk with them about what it was like to faithfully wait for Jesus’s birth all those years ago. Our anticipation of Christmas only lasts a month or so, but during this time we can lead our kids to better appreciate what it means to trust God as we wait, knowing he always keeps his promises.

And the first Advent isn’t merely a history lesson; we’re still a waiting people. We have the promise of a second Advent still to come: Christ is coming back to make all things new. The world will tell us we’ve been waiting too long—if it hasn’t happened yet, it will never happen (2 Pet. 3:4–9). But those who abide in Christ will find rest, contentment, and a holy anticipation as we keep up the watch. We say “Come, Lord Jesus” and “Your will be done” in the same breath.

Instant gratification isn’t paramount for the believer. We seek the eternal gratification that comes only from God, trusting he will bring it about for our good and his glory.

Until then, we wait.

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