Natalie Ogbourne

Advent: Two Ways of Waiting

Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn gift shop hummed like a hive. All the time. Except when Old Faithful was about to erupt.  Then, every visitor in the area was out on the boardwalk, waiting.

After a short lull, the gift shop—site of my summer job between high school and college—began to fill with customers. They came first in a trickle, then in a torrent. Milling around, they searched for some thing to take home or some way to pass the time until the next eruption.

Then, as if in response to a silent summons, they turned in unison and brought their finds to the cash registers. The customers at the front of the line conversed with the cashiers while the ones toward the back glared and shifted from one foot to the other. Inevitably, some perturbed soul would give voice to the collective angst and mutter, just loud enough for the rest of us to hear, “Old Faithful is scheduled to erupt in seven minutes.”

And I would smile down at the warped wooden floor, because eruptions are predicted, not scheduled.


All summer long I watched the people who’d come to see Old Faithful. I watched the gift shop empty and fill. And I watched the geyser do the same.

Because of Old Faithful’s fame, almost everyone who visits Yellowstone stops to see it erupt. Its fame results from its regularity and predictability, or possibly from tall tales about said regularity and predictability. Unless visitors happen to arrive at just the right moment, they will end up waiting.

They don’t all wait the same way.

Some, when they discover the next predicted eruption is a ways off—twenty minutes, a half-hour, an hour—will wander over to one of the benches on Old Faithful’s boardwalk, sit down, and settle in. They might read or nap. They might chat with their boardwalk neighbors. A few will watch the geyser—its silence, its thickening column of vapor, the first splash from its cone heralding that something worthwhile is on the way.

Others, when they realize that they have that same time to fill, rush off in search of some diversion—the gift shop, the source of the huckleberry ice cream, or the hard-to-find signal for their phone. Later, they converge on the boardwalk, hoping they haven’t missed it, or, at least, that they haven’t missed all of it.

Over that summer and most years since, I’ve waited for  Old Faithful—sometimes one way and sometimes the other. I’ve seen the predicted eruption time and turned toward the gift shop, or gone in search of the ice cream, or buried myself in the bookstore. I’ve sat on a bench and marveled, focusing on the mystery of a created phenomena that can be predicted but not scheduled. And I know which is more satisfying.

Slowly, slowly, I’m learning from that.

Because while I am usually quite content to sit and wait for a geyser—even one less predictable and regular than Old Faithful—when it comes to my life, I head to the metaphorical gift shop to fill the time. I might like to think of it as productivity or multitasking, but, really, I just prefer to deal with the discomfort of waiting by distracting myself with something else.

I know better, because when I head somewhere else to fill the time, I lose touch with what I’m waiting for. Oh, I’ll probably remember it well enough to check my watch every once in a while to make sure I show up at the appointed time, but when I do, I’ll show up all wrong. I might breeze in at the last second, breathless and expecting a spectacular show. I might show up in the middle, and be disappointed. Or I might show up a little hazy about why it mattered in the first place. Worse, I will have missed out on all the good that time waiting on life’s boardwalk opens up a little space for.

We’re always waiting for something, always deciding how to spend the time, where to put our attention. And those things we’re always doing tend to become part of the background noise of life. They become mundane. Everyday. And the everyday is easily blocked out. Rote. Unconsidered.

We’re on the the threshold of advent, that season of remembering that we—along with all creation—are waiting, not for something, but someone. We’re waiting for a triumphant return, an hour which is expected but certainly not scheduled.

How do you want to wait?

Waiting for an eruption is not the same as, say, waiting for news or healing or deliverance. But waiting—most any kind of waiting in a culture where most any thing can be gotten on demand—is an art and a skill, a habit and a discipline that can be practiced.

I, for one, could use the practice, because willingness to wait in the small things builds perseverance for the big ones. Waiting is hard. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be so tempting to fill it with distractions.

Oswald Chambers called waiting for God “one of the greatest strains in life.” And no matter what we’re waiting for—healing or provision or the return of the King—we’re always waiting for God.

Sometimes I struggle to slow down and wait, even for a geyser. But geysers whisper that it’s worth it to pause and pay attention, to linger over what’s there to be seen, to anticipate what’s coming—to wait with expectancy. Advent creates space for us to do the same, to remember the birth of Jesus and wait with expectancy for his return—without distracting ourselves overmuch with the shops, the ice cream, the books, or the phone.

Ponder the path | What would look like for you to practice waiting with expectancy—both for the return of Jesus and in the details of your day—this advent season?

Sharing encouragement with other writers at Kelly’s and Holley’s and Lyli’s.

I hope what you read here today encourages you as you walk by faith through the landscape of your life. If it did, I invite you to subscribe here to receive monthly{ish} posts delivered directly to your inbox.

Two Ways of Waiting is part 6 in a series about waiting by faith.To read the others, click The Spiritual Discipline of Expecting Delays and Great Scenery, For When We Find Ourselves Waiting, Whether We Perceive It or Not, Walking When You’d Rather Wait, and Waiting for Tomorrow.