Following fifteen weeks of instruction, my students sat working on their pinnacle assignment for the semester—a deductive essay on the meaning of words. I spent the last class period before their essay submission giving them one more tool to check for the connection and flow of their ideas, fielding questions about word choice, and shepherding them through the process of final edits. We had labored over this particular piece of writing for weeks, striving to pull together all of the elements of good academic writing in one final, cohesive essay. The normally chatty room fell silent, testimony to my students’ focus and feelings.
After weaving through rows to meet each raised hand, I claimed an empty chair next to one student who had additional questions. I had visited her seat several times already, each conversation appearing to move her closer to a successful essay. In fact, each week of the semester had moved her along that trajectory. The slow and steady build of examining and constructing effective sentences that join into coherent paragraphs that result in a cohesive essay had left her—and her work—changed. She had not removed herself from the struggle of thinking through the logic of her claims, finding clear language to articulate her ideas, or organizing her sentences in a way that best serves the reader. She had labored and waited, labored and waited for the desired result. When her last questions about this assignment had been answered, she turned to me with a new awareness: “It’s actually kind of exciting to see this essay come together! It’s like a work of art!”
I’d be lying to say that I witness such transformation in every one of my writing students, but it’s not an overstatement to say that I often do. This isn’t primarily owing to any giftedness I may have as a teacher, but rather the result of learning to write well. Beginning Composition students arrive in my class with certain assumptions about their skills. Sometimes they come with a toolbox full of knowledge that serves them well as they continue their academic writing; other times they arrive with a language deficit that even they themselves fail to see clearly. Oftentimes, the first few days of class instruction—and first graded essays—prove to be a catalyst for self-examination and realistic assessment. Only then do I see students move forward toward writing progress.
Such progress rarely happens quickly. Instead, the slow, methodical plod of skill building that takes place as students learn to construct and carefully analyze their sentences and paragraphs begins to shape each essay as a whole. Each weekly grammar lesson provides new insight into the reasons beneath syntax. Every discussion of clarity and rhythm and variety yields a clearer vision of the end goal. Novice attempts to find the short-cut to the final product fall by the wayside, and students settle into the truth that good writing doesn’t just happen; it’s a process which requires time and effort. Students and professors alike join in the struggle of working toward improvement and growth. We labor and wait, labor and wait, molding words into a work of art.
For the Christian, this kind of labor and waiting is instructive for more than just writing. We spend our lives laboring and waiting, seeking to cultivate the virtues of patience and expectant hope. During the season of Advent, we grow keenly aware of this pattern of faith: we remember Abraham and Sarah, waiting for God’s covenant promises to be kept; we read about Moses, waiting for the promised land; we remember the Israelites, waiting for a king. And then we celebrate: Christ, the Lord, the newborn King is born to the virgin Mary. The heavens declare the glory of the Messiah’s birth. And later in Luke 2, we read of Simeon, who had been “waiting for the consolation of Israel,” confessing that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of God borne into the world to redeem sinners. The waiting is over!—and yet it persists.
We are waiting still—with hopeful expectation—for Christ’s return and reign, for “everything sad… [to] come untrue.” We labor and wait, labor and wait, striving to “be patient in tribulation…[and] constant in prayer.” We wait as those who have seen the fulfillment of the promised Messiah, but who long for the consummation of the End:
Now we celebrate your first coming, Immanuel,
even as we long for your return.
O Prince of Peace, our elder brother, return
soon. We miss you so!
As I simultaneously lead my classes through the work of writing and join in the church tradition of Advent, I am mindful of the opportunity I have to shape my students into those who know how to labor and wait. As a Christian, I can lead my students to approach writing in a way that shapes their character and enables them to wait well in other areas of their lives. What a good gift that is for a generation of students (and teachers!) who are prone to instant gratification! May my labors for their growth point them to the God who “acts for those who wait for him.”
 Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible (Grand Rapids: Zonderkidz, 2007), 149.
 Romans 12:12, ESV.
 Douglas McKelvey, Every Moment Holy (Nashville: Rabbit Room Press, 2017), 122.
 Isaiah 64:4, ESV.