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To Wait: What Spanish Says About Waiting [Advent]


It's sort of strange for an Advent series focusing on language to be written by a person who - for all intents and purposes - is basically monolingual. (Although, my emoji game is strong!)

So I've invited my friend Michelle to write today's post on Spanish. She is bilingual and insightful, and I am so grateful for her perspective as we finish this series on Advent, and prepare for Christmas. I wish your family a wonderful celebration!

For most of my life I have had a negative association with waiting. Perhaps we all do?

Some waiting can be compartmentalized. It has a clear beginning and end. When you choose the longest line possible at the grocery store is it frustrating? Of course, but you know the waiting is temporary. It will end, maybe not as quickly as you like, but no one waits at the grocery store for eternity.

But there are other kinds of waiting. Seasons of waiting that are less concrete, where the feelings of longing and yearning may stretch on for months, or even years. It’s often hard to pinpoint exactly when the waiting started, and even more difficult to explain because there is no guarantee of when it will end.

This is the longing for a spouse when the rest of your friends found theirs years ago and on your better days you wonder when it will be your turn and other days you worry, if.

This is the yearning to become a mother or a father, but each month there is just one pink line on the familiar pregnancy tests that you keep stashed in the bottom bathroom drawer.

This is the waiting for healing, when the person you love most can't fight the cancer that has taken over their body and you are left to care for them and yourself without any idea of how long.

This is the waiting for reconciliation with the sister, or son or best friend, whom you haven’t talked to in years, but pray for every day because you have nothing else you can do.

These kinds of seasons of waiting encompasses all of who we are. The lines between who we are and what we wait for blur. And that is such a hard place to be. I know because I have been there.

A large part of my 20s were filled with elements of waiting; the kind of waiting that is marked by unknowns and fear. The kind of waiting that makes you doubt God and yourself and why life is not going the way you planned. And if you’re not careful it’s the kind of waiting that can paralyze you with worry.

When I moved to Guatemala 5 years ago I sometimes joke that not only did I find my husband, but I also found a new understanding of the verb, “to wait.”

In Spanish, esperar actually means to wait, to hope and to expect.

If you’re a native English speaker you’re probably thinking, hey, those are three separate words how can they all mean the same thing? But stay with me. In Spanish they just do. And you can usually only tell which idea is being expressed by the context.

Take for instance:
Espero que todo salga bien. (I hope everything goes well.)
Esta no era lo que yo esperaba. (This is not what I was expecting.)
Estamos esperando por el bus. (We are waiting for the bus.)

They say when you begin to learn a new language you not only develop a new way to understand an unfamiliar culture, but also  new way to think about your own. Certain words and ideas change connotation in a new cultural context.

The differences and meaning in Spanish are slight. Because you could say “Estamos esperando nuestro primer bebe” and mean “We are expecting our first baby” or “We are waiting for our first baby.” See, they both work!

In English those two sentences have very different meanings. For most people, “expecting” has a positive connotation, where “waiting” automatically assumes a negative one.

Reading the bible in Spanish has also given me a new, dare I say, appreciation for the idea of waiting. In the English NIV translation, this verse reads: Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him (Psalm 37:7).

Now how does the meaning change when I read this verse in Spanish? Guarda silencio ante el Señor, y esperar en él con paciencia (Salmo 37:7).

Is it Wait? or Hope? or Expect?

Do I wait in the Lord with patience? Do I hope in the Lord with patience? Or do I place my expectations in Him? Maybe the answer is yes. All three.

Traditionally during Christmas, Christians celebrate Advent, a season of waiting and preparing for Jesus. Sometimes I wonder how our understanding of Advent and Jesus could be expanded if we also saw this season as one where we are not just passively waiting for Christmas, but actively hoping and expecting.

If you find yourself in a hard season of waiting this year, can I invite you to try something new this final week before Christmas? Whenever you read the word wait or tell someone that you are waiting, try replacing it with hope or expect. Because the Spanish definition of “wait” might just be a more accurate description of the process we move through as we wait, hope and expect.

Michelle is a born and raised California girl who now calls Guatemala home. She and her husband work in community development and are committed to raise a bilingual and bicultural daughter who currently says things like “mas beans.” Michelle writes about motherhood, marriage, and life in between two cultures and countries at simplycomplicated.me. You can find her on instagram | facebook | twitter


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