Waiting with Ants an Advent Reflection by Jim Fisher
Today’s Advent reflection is written by Jim Fisher. Jim Fish enjoys reading and listening to stories. Even his profile pictures are intended to inspire conversation and invite you inside a story. (So what is the story behind that butterfly on your finger, Jim?) On his best days, he paints word-pictures for his website which you can find by searching for “Holy Hugs” via Google. He lives in Minnesota with his wife, Mary, his bicycle, Renée, and his 15-year-old narcissistic moth orchid, Luna, who always starts to bloom during Advent and continues her showy display until Easter.
A boy, not much older than a toddler, is sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk in front of his house, staring at a crack in the cement. As I approach him from the end of the block, I slow my pace so as not to interrupt whatever has captivated his attention.
With a light smile on my face, I stand amazed at the intensity of his focus. His head, resting on his hands, has not moved for several minutes. Then as he turns to pick up a small stick, he catches sight of me watching him. Without showing any signs of being startled, he simply greets me with a cheerful, “Hi!”
“Hi, Jimmy. What are you studying so intently?”
“Ants,” he replies excitedly.
“What are the ants doing?”
Jimmy turns, points his little stick to the crack in the sidewalk and explains, “Well, they go down into the ground through this hole and bring up sand. Then they carry it up over this pile and drop it and then go back down into the ground to get some more.”
As I sit on the pavement next to him, I watch as ants excavate their underground tunnels and build the perfectly round dome of sand that we all have seen in the cracks of sidewalks. As an adult, I certainly would never take the time, even on a perfect day like this, to sit and study … and wait … with the intensity and awe of this little boy. I begin to wonder why.
Jimmy returns to his study and lightly disturbs the dome with his stick to explore how the ants scurry to mend the scar. Amazed at his inquisitive spirit, I ask, “Do you study ants often?”
“Just when Mommy is gone.”
Startled, I probe deeper, “You mean your mom is not in the house?”
“No. She went shopping. She told me to wait here until she got back.” Jimmy’s forehead wrinkles. He is starting to wonder why I am asking these questions.
I hesitantly ask one more, “How long has she been gone?”
“Since after breakfast, I guess.”
It was almost noon.
Immersed in my adult worldview, I am having a hard time with this. I live in a time of child abductions, child abandonment, and abuse. I live in a time of constant stimulus, hand-held phones, electronic games, and social media. I live in a time of attention deficit and instant gratification. I live in a time where no responsible parent would leave their three-year-old child outside to wait for her return hours later.
I also live in a time when we have lost our desire, and maybe even our ability, to wait.
I am finding this especially difficult because I am peering back more than half a century to a very different time. I am also peering back to a very different person … for that little boy is me.
I have lost that childlike sense of awe and wonder-filled anticipation of what comes next. Well maybe not lost, but certainly scribbled over with ink drawn from the well of societal pressures, expectations, and norms. I tend to wait with twiddling thumbs, not with the active, anticipatory patience of a child.
The little boy knows that his mother will return. He has no reason to question it. And as he catches sight of her pulling the wagon full of groceries at the end of the block, he jumps on his tricycle pedaling as fast as his little legs will allow, scurrying to greet her. And as they return to the house once again united and engaged with each other, I wonder. I wonder if I will have that same childlike enthusiasm and energy to greet Jesus when He returns to us here on Earth. I wonder if I really understand what the Apantēsis is going to be like. I wonder if I really understand Advent.
I wonder, too, how ants with brains smaller than the grains of sand they are carrying can have such a perfected sense of symmetry and order. How can they instinctively know how to work together for the common good when we humans with much larger brains have yet to figure that out? Will I and the rest of humanity, our Creator’s crown jewel, ever learn how to care for and love our planet and each other as we were intended? How shall I wait for that? Like an adult waiting for a bus? Or like a child.
Lord, teach me to wait with the heart and energy of that little boy within me. Lead me away from a purposeless passing of the time and toward purpose-filled anticipation. Guide me in Your purposes and keep me moving on a path mending the scars on our planet and our people so that we become worthy of Your return. Amen.