I had the pleasure over the Thanksgiving holiday to see the Mister Rogers movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” It was a heartfelt story about the relationship that developed between Fred Rogers and a journalist from Esquire magazine who reluctantly accepted an assignment to interview Fred and to write an article about how he was a hero to many. The movie is a beautiful tribute to the life of this great man who inspired so many through his work. I admired his devotion to God and his belief in the power of prayer. He was a model of not only how to live but how to pray. I was interested in learning more about him so when I got home I googled the Esquire article and I was struck by yet another example of how he affected the life of a man called Joybubbles. This man was born blind and abused most of his childhood. When he grew up he made a pilgrimage to the University of Pittsburgh Science Library which keeps Mr Rogers works archived. He spent two months listening to all 865 episodes of the program It’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. In the midst of his time in Pittsburgh, he said one night Mr Rogers came to him in what he calls a visitation. He said; “I was dreaming, but I was awake” and Mr Rogers offered to teach him how to pray.
“But Mister Rogers, I can’t pray,” Joybubbles said, “because every time I try to pray I forget the words.”
“I know that,” Mister Rogers said, “and thats why the prayer I’m going to teach you only has three words.”
“What prayer is that, Mister Rogers?” “What kind of prayer only has three words?”
Thank you, God,” Mister Rogers said.
As we enter this season of Advent, a season of waiting, I am reminded that one of the most difficult situations that we can face as a people of faith is waiting for God’s response to a prayer request. At some point in our lives, most of us have become frustrated with God for not answering our prayers quickly enough or not at all. This time of spiritual waiting can be difficult because sometimes the end is not in site. It’s often easier to deal with the Lord saying no rather than not saying anything at all.
For many, it seems that the longings of our heart come more sharply into focus during the holiday season. Maybe family members are estranged, and the hope is that this will be the year that brings them back. We may be waiting for a job to come our way or for healing for our self or a loved one. I recall how difficult the holiday seasons were for me the many years I waited without knowing if we would conceive and be able to share the joy of Christmas morning with a child of our own. I waited many years for that prayer to be answered. And in 2004, I spent the season of Advent patiently waiting in the hope that I would be cured of cancer. The hard part is sometimes we find that Christmas can come and go without fulfilling our prayer requests. The difficult thing about waiting is the not knowing when it’s going to end, or if it is going to end.
I will admit that I don’t like to wait. I have gotten used to today’s society which makes every attempt to make my life quick, fast and easier. But what I have come to understand and now appreciate is that God works on a very different timetable. I have discovered that what may have seemed like unnecessary waiting to me was needed to fulfill God’s mysterious plan for me. That is the struggle. His plan, not my plan. His time, not my time. It is hard to let go and let God.
During the times of spiritual waiting God may be asking us to follow His lead and to put down our demanding selves, to calm that screaming child within us that keeps crying “Are we there yet?” Why are we running ahead instead of staying in our appointed place while He says stay? We only need to “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). We may find that in the silence we can come to understand that God may be using these “not yet” times to change us and to draw us closer to Him.
The word wait means “to expect” or “to look for.” Can we be an expectant person who is hopeful and can recognize that something actually happens while nothing is happening? Can we use this “not yet” time in our lives to deepen our prayer life and know that it is often while we are searching for an answers that we hear the Lord speaking most clearly?
Then we need to trust. If we trust in God it means that we believe two things, that He is powerful and loving. First, believing He is powerful means we have come to believe that God is capable of overcoming any obstacle standing in the way of our needs. We recently celebrated the feast of the Immaculate Conception and in the gospel reading on that day ( Luke 1:26-38) we are reminded of the power of God. On that day in Nazareth an angel Gabriel appeared to Mary with a request that was frightening yet she believed in the power of God’s word and said yes even when she did not know what the future would bring. She heard the message of the angel “nothing is impossible for God” and trusted in God by responding “may it be done to me according to your word.” She surrendered to His word with a hopeful heart. Second, believing God is loving means that we understand that there is care and purpose behind all that He does. It means that we know that His judgement and timing is always good and we believe that He will give us everything we need when we need it. Even during the long road of silent waiting we believe that God cares deeply for us. So our trust in this God brings us peace and comfort in the desert times.
So this holiday season if we find ourselves in a period of waiting we ask ourselves…
Can we be a person of hopeful expectation?
Can we believe that God has our best interest in mind and only wants good for us?
Can we be sure that we are loved by a merciful God?
Can we accept His answer or no answer?
Can we think His will not my will be done?
Can we trust that He is powerful and loving?
This advent season I find that again I am waiting for a prayer to be answered. But I am waiting with my God. Sometimes I ask: “Are we there yet?” and my impatient child inside screams “WHEN?”
“Not Yet” is the answer I hear.
So I stay and I am reminded that I can be thankful for a God that I know loves me and will care for me no matter what the future holds. While I wait I am still learning how to let God be God and to trust in His time. I know that there is a reason for this season of waiting. And as Mister Rogers reminds me, my only prayer this advent season is
“Thank you God.” Thank you for the “not yet” times. It brings me closer to the friend I found in you.