He is always there waiting at the gate when I arrive at Manna House. He stands on the sidewalk as I unlock the gate for the front yard. I usually arrive by 6:40am to start the coffee. Even when I arrive ten or fifteen minutes earlier, he is there. If I arrive after 6:45am, he tells me “You’re late.”
He is usually alone at that early hour, though occasionally there is one or two others. But he is the only one consistently there, waiting.
He has a place to live, a small apartment nearby. So why does he come so early? I have asked him that question several times. He has said a variety of things in response, all pretty much the same.
“I’m up. I get going.”
“I dunno. I just want to be here.”
“I don’t mind waiting.”
The explanations do not explain much. So, I’m left to wonder. He does not have to be there early to make sure he gets on the shower list. He never gets on the shower list. He does not have to be there early to get on the socks and hygiene list. We guarantee guests can get on that list until 8:30am, even if by then we have more than fifty one people. He does not have to be there early to get coffee. We serve coffee all morning. What draws him out to be there so early?
I asked him again this morning, “Why do you get here early?”
His answer this time was different, “I like to wait.”
I have been mulling over his response ever since. He may well be the only person I have ever met who likes to wait. Since he gives a positive meaning to waiting, I am going to start thinking of him as a witness to waiting. In his witness, he may well be onto something easy to overlook, the importance of waiting, of embracing waiting, of practicing waiting.
His embrace of waiting made me think about the importance of waiting in a life of faith. The Psalms have many references to waiting upon the Lord. (See Psalm 5:3, 25:5, 27:14, 33:20, 37:7-9, 39:7, 123:2, 130:5-6, 145:15-16). The two major seasons in the Christian year are about waiting. In Advent we wait for Christmas. In Lent we wait for Holy Week and Easter.
What these all have in common with each other is a sense of expectation and hope. To wait in faith is not passive acquiescence to the way things are. To wait in faith is to actively anticipate intervention, transformation, liberation, resurrection. To wait in faith is to prepare for what one is waiting for. The biblical words in Hebrew and Greek for “waiting” typically carry the meaning of waiting expectantly, of waiting with hope.
Maybe I can learn from this guest at Manna House the importance of waiting as a spiritual discipline. To wait means to avoid both impatience and boredom, to avoid both not being willing to wait, and not thinking there is anything worth waiting for. Maybe this guest is teaching me, giving witness to the waiting of which the Psalmist writes, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in God’s word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord, more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning” (Psalm 130:5-6).