We’re in the home stretch now. The last day of fasting is Saturday, followed by Eid, a day of great celebration and feasting.
Many people have reminded me that the last ten days of Ramadan are considered the most sacred; Mohammed reportedly spent intense nights in prayer during this period. It is also the period during which Laylat al-Qadr, or The Night of Power, occurs. This is the night in which the Quran was given to Mohammed.
Muslims believe that this night is “better than a thousand months,” and that those who spend their time in acts of worship on this night earn special favor and reward with God. Some even go so far as to live inside the mosque for the entire ten day period, in a constant regimen of prayer and worship – this is called “i`tikaf.” In several of the mosques I visited, I saw rooms full of sleeping bags, pillows and backpacks for those who had moved in to observe i’tikaf.
I am impressed by the overriding sense of building anticipation, of hope, during these last ten days. It reminds me of the two great seasons of the Christian faith – Advent and Lent. Advent is a time of looking forward to the birth of Jesus, while Lent is a season of fasting in anticipation of Christ’s death and resurrection. During both seasons, we are encouraged to patiently wait.
Patient waiting is another difficult virtue for Americans. We are used to getting whatever we want, whenever we want it. We are accustomed to placing an order, and getting it almost immediately.
I remember ordering things by mail as a child. I would place a check in an envelope and mail it. Usually, the company advised that it would take “four to six weeks” for delivery. Those were always long and excruciating weeks. Every day, I would come home from the school and go straight to the mailbox to see if I’d received my coveted prize. The day it arrived was always a day of celebration and exhilaration!
Now, I can order something online and have it at my house the next day. And Amazon is even experimenting with same-day service in certain American cities!
Though instant results are exciting, we lose the value of learning to wait. There is something character-building about desiring something, then taking the steps necessary to acquire it. The longer it takes to acquire something, the more we will likely value it.
This must certainly be true for our spiritual lives, as well. God rarely gives us precisely what we ask for, or what we need, at the exact moment in which we ask it. Instead, we receive it gradually, slowly, incrementally.
The Psalmist understood this. He wrote in Psalm 27, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!, and in Psalm 62, “For God alone my soul waits in silence.”
This is also an attitude of submission, because as we wait, we acknowledge that we do not expect God to act on our time schedule. God is free to act as God wills. God is not a waiter who takes our order, then rushes around to get it filled and served to us as quickly as possible.
True prayer is always ultimately an act of patient waiting. We acknowledge who God is, make plain our need, and then leave the rest to God.
In these final days of Ramadan, I plan to embrace the act of waiting quietly.