Advent Is a Time to Learn What It Means to Be Patient

Technology has forever changed the waiting game.

Thanks to Amazon and Apple, we can walk around our homes like we’re straight out of The Crown, the rightful Queens and Kings of our own — and highly personalized — digital dominion.

Every TV show, movie and song in history? On demand.

Your 17 Social Media accounts? Up in 0.5 seconds.

Food delivered to your doorstep? There’s an app for that.

Clothes? Home Goods? Books? Gifts? And any other thing you could ever want or need in this life? Amazon.

This digital world has gotten us accustomed to a click lifestyle, a lifestyle in which nearly every human need or urge — however healthy or destructive — can be immediately fulfilled with almost no effort or wait on our part.

Click, Thai Food. Click, porn. Click, new clothes. Click Marijuana. Click, new Nikes. Click, Jack Daniels. Click, new car.

In a world of 5G and fiber optic — a world that literarily didn’t exist 30 years ago — waiting, it seems, is quickly becoming non-essential.

Every Wednesday night, some buddies from college and I log in to Zoom, drink whiskey, talk about life and challenge each other to be better men.

A few weeks ago, one of the guys offered up a thought to the group that has been banging around my brain since.

“We all have habits” he said. “The question we need to ask is what are these habits doing to us?

Habits move us in a specific direction” he continued. “Where are yours moving you?”

He finished talking and there was a pause.

Shoot,” I thought. “I’m gonna need another drink.”

Habits are powerful. We’re responsible for creating them and yet they deeply shape us.

One dictionary defines these forces of nature as “an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.” A fine line exists between free will and involuntary behavior, it seems. Let me give you an example.

If you binge Netflix every night for a specific length of time, eventually, you will find you cannot stop binging Netflix every night. When you began watching, you were making a choice to engage in this activity. A year later, your involuntary habit has become so engrained in your life that it feels like you have little choice in the matter. You now bing as if on auto drive.

If we engage in a repetitive and specific action long enough, we will find that this action has morphed into something more powerful, more entrenched, more influential in our daily lives.

Now, habits can be a powerful force for good.

Waking up early. Eating a healthy breakfast. Exercising regularly. Spending time with people you love. Limiting your screen time. Reading. Working hard at what makes you come alive. Going to bed early. These are just a few examples of habits that pay enormous dividends once they become a regular pattern in your life.

Habits are like accruing interest. The longer you engage in positive behavior, the greater the impact will be on your life and the lives of those around you. Just ask Oprah, Bill Gates, Barak and Michelle Obama, Lebron James, Tom Brady or any other human being who excels. The personal habits they chose to foster have become so powerful, impactful and entrenched in their lives that their actions move millions of people towards the greater good.

While habits can be a powerful force for the good, they can also be utterly and completely destructive.

I work for a homeless service agency in South L.A. Everyday, our staff works on behalf of people facing a housing crisis. Many of the people we advocate for have experienced trauma and pain and have lost their housing as a result. They are not responsible for their housing insecurity. However, there are some people we work with who have lost everything due to the habits they’ve created.

Substance use evolved into substance abuse. A physical altercation morphed into an appetite for violence. Unwise financial choices transformed into habitual bankruptcy. Isolation from friends and family resurfaced as debilitating depression. Simple and seemingly harmless choices were repeated again and again. These choices have now taken on a life of their own and are running the show, auto drive fully engaged.

Habits move us in a specific direction. They guide us towards the light or plunge us into darkness. They lead to love and inclusive plurality or they drag us deeper into selfishness and singularity.

The question we must be willing to ask ourselves is this: where are my habits moving me?

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Every year, millions of people around the world observe a period of time called Advent. Simply translated, Advent means waiting.

One of the purposes of Advent is to create or reestablish a new habit — a habit of expectation, of patience for something better, something promised that hasn’t yet happened.

The events of this past year have applied enormous pressure to our click lifestyle. The cracks that formed early on are now gaping canyons. It would seem the real world didn’t get the memo: if we were Kings and Queens of some digital dominion, Alexa is the only one listening.

Habits that had proven so effective and convenient in this alternate universe were no match for reality. Click, Vaccine? Click, brotherly love? Click, peaceful transition of power? Never before had we been so misguided or misdirected by our collective habits. The one virtue we needed most this year is the one virtue our clicks nearly destroyed.

Yes, 2020 has asked much of us. But at the heart of this complex request is something quite simple:

Have patience.

Pause.

Wait.

Breath.

Learn to have greater expectation for something — or someone — better.

If you find yourself — as I have — lacking that one, essential virtue, below are simple and practical steps you can take to move closer to patience and closer to peace.

  1. Get Stuck in Traffic. Practice makes perfect. What better way to foster patience than to wait aimlessly in a sea of cars when you clearly have somewhere better to be? While you’re stuck though, look around you. Are there people you love in the car? Is there a good song on the radio? Breath deep and ask yourself how can I enjoy this moment? You might be surprised by the answer.
  2. Limit Over Exposure to Technology. We know Alexa thinks you’re the best and Netflix doesn’t make you wait for the next Office episode, but the real world doesn’t work the way. The perennial adage rings true: old habits die hard which means you have a long road ahead of you. Instead of listening to music on Spotify, try listening to a record. Instead of scrolling endlessly through Netflix, play a dvd (yes, they still exist). The simple act of flipping the record to listen to the other side or inserting the dvd into the player are monumental acts that, over time, slowly dismantle the click lifestyle and all her habits.
  3. Buy Coffee for the Homeless Person on the Corner. You know who I’m talking about. We all know one. While you’re at it, ask them how they’re doing today. I bet you’ll be blown away by the answer — and you’ll probably find yourself losing track of time as well.
  4. Wait for the Right One. COVID has made the dating scene iffy at best. But while you’re waiting for Mr. or Mrs. Right to magically appear at your door like Jude Law in The Holiday, think about the kind of person you want to be. What are you passionate about? What makes you come alive? What are your values? If you do the hard work of asking these types of questions and honestly searching out the answers, you may find a whole different type of person now finds you compelling.
  5. Participate in Advent this Year. Advent begins the Sunday after Thanksgiving and goes until Christmas. During one of the most chaotic years we’ve lived through, take time to pause and practice the art of expectation. While Advent is a spiritual holiday observed by Christians, the concept of Holding Out for a Hero is a longing not far from each of our hearts.

This list is not exhaustive, nor is it meant to be. But it represents a start — the first steps towards fostering deeper habits of patience, of expectation for what could be, of longing for the promise yet to be fulfilled.

True, technology has changed the waiting game. But if 2020 has revealed anything, it’s shown me that while waiting has never been more difficult, no virtue is more essential.

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