Waiting. It seems like a passive activity. I mean the idea of waiting is that you aren’t actually doing anything. The waiting is what happens before or in between action.
You wait for the bus.
You wait in line at the grocery store.
You wait for the microwave to ding.
There are rooms built just for waiting and they usually involve magazines and/or TVs to help people sit quietly and…well, wait.
But of course assuming that waiting is always easy or comfortable is false. Just ask anyone who’s waited for the doctor to call with biopsy results. Or the 17 year old girl waiting for that college acceptance letter. Or the parent waiting for the phone call that her son arrived at his destination safely after flying alone for the first time.
Sometimes waiting is arduous, even agonizing.
I’ve never been particularly good at waiting. Patience does not come easily and waiting for big news, a decision, or even for my kids to get their shoes on can start to give me anxiety.
I like deadlines and predictability. I am a planner and need to know everything that’s going to happen and when. Back when I was a senior in college, my then-boyfriend and I had been dating for over 2 years and were talking about marriage. I knew he was going to propose, but not knowing when, where, or how was killing me! I would look for hidden meaning in every phone call or letter, trying to figure out his plans. Every time he came to visit me at school I would get incredibly anxious thinking this may be the day, only to be disappointed when the visit ended and there had been no proposal. Finally, one day I said, “are you EVER going to propose to me?” Just what every guy wants to hear, right?
Thankfully he didn’t scare easily and finally got down on one knee two months before graduation. We’ll be married 16 years this month.
Some things are definitely worth the agony that comes with the waiting. And some things just shouldn’t be rushed. I know this intellectually, but in my heart I struggle to be at peace in the midst of waiting.
When I was a teenager, God put a calling in my heart to be a writer. A few years later, God put another calling in my heart to serve Him in ministry, although I wasn’t sure exactly what that would look like. As I entered the great big adult world after college I applied for countless writing or editing jobs and got no response, not even an interview. And because I said yes to that proposal, I put on hold any plans to go to seminary or do missions work.
Being young and impetuous, I decided I had misunderstood that call to be a writer. And I thought maybe the calling to go into ministry was misheard, and I was really just supposed to volunteer at church more. I gave up waiting for God to reveal any more, and did the practical thing: I got a job in corporate communications and moved forward with my life as a wife and, eventually, as a mother. But every few years I would feel restless. I would start to think about those two callings I felt early on in life and wonder: what if?
Then, two years ago, I found myself in a bit of a perfect storm. I was finishing up grad school and thinking about the next chapter in my career. At the same time I was part of a group of people planting a church in our community. What had started out as a small group Bible study was turning into a new church, and God was working in my heart and spirit in big ways. For the first time in years I felt the familiar tug of that call to go into ministry. At the same time, I had been writing for my University’s student blog and remembering how much I loved writing.
Suddenly, I felt so certain that God was saying: “Now! This is the time. This is what you’ve been waiting for!” Things moved quickly for the next few months. I started this blog, I met with an editor who showed interest in a book idea, I went to a conference and learned about book proposals and building a platform. The rate at which it all started to come together, made me certain God had something big planned for me, and it was just right around the corner.
But it wasn’t long before momentum slowed considerably. The editor I’d spoken to left the publishing house and no one could tell me what had happened to my proposal. While I continued to write for my blog, readership did not grow as I had expected. Inquiry letters to literary agents went unanswered, or I got the “thanks, but no thanks” email. I applied for all kinds of jobs at Christian schools and non-profits. But any leads I got fizzled quickly.
I started to question again if I had heard the call correctly. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to write, or maybe it was never going to be more than a “hobby”.
But while the things I thought were part of the plan weren’t happening, God also presented some unexpected opportunities in my life. My husband and I started to lead a small group Bible study. I had the opportunity to plan and lead my first (and second) women’s retreat. I was called to go on a mission trip to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. I was encouraged by my pastor to start a women’s ministry at our young church.
Then, about three months ago I was invited by some friends to join in an Experiencing God class. At first I almost declined because I felt I just didn’t have time for it. But after some prayer I decided to go forward. (I won’t go into too much detail about all the ways this class has impacted me and my spiritual walk, because it deserves a post all on its own, but let me just say I highly recommend Experiencing God to anyone seeking to know God more intimately.) A recurring theme in Experiencing God is that God will invite us to become involved with Him in His work, but it will lead to a crisis of belief, requiring both faith and action, and ultimately a major adjustment in life.
Faith and action. I’m really good at the action part, but faith requires waiting and trusting. And that is where I stumble. Because letting go of control doesn’t come naturally. And because waiting can be hard work.
I felt the call to make big changes and adjustments, and I was ready! But I couldn’t discern exactly what it was God wanted me to do. I kept waiting for some clear direction and in the waiting I grew increasingly frustrated.
Then I read something in my Experiencing God book yesterday that really hit me: “Let God use times of waiting to mold and shape your character…God’s great task is to adjust His people to Himself. It takes time for Him to shape us to be exactly what He wants us to be…The key is your relationship with God. The God who initiates His work in a relationship with you is the One who guarantees to complete it” (Blackaby, 2007).
And it finally seemed so clear. My struggle with waiting has been that I’ve always seen it as wasted or lost time, taking away from the important things, the getting on with life. Time spent in line, when I could be at home cooking a meal; time spent reading a magazine, when I could be talking to the doctor; time spent waiting to hear God’s call, when I could be out there doing His work.
In my haste to get to my destination, it never occurred to me that the waiting might just be the journey. And in the journey, there is anticipation and excitement. There is time spent with those travelling with you. In the journey there is beauty and there is joy.
Yes, there is work in waiting, but the real work isn’t mine; it’s the work God is doing in the midst of the waiting to refine me, to prepare me.
A few weeks ago I hosted the second Renew and Restore Women’s Retreat. Our verse for the weekend was Isaiah 40:31. For the retreat I used the NIV version, which says “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Then last week I discovered a slight, but poignant difference in the New King James Version of the same verse, which says:
“But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.“
So, I wait. But I wait with anticipation and excitement over what is to come. I find renewal and relationship in the midst of the wait. And I look for the beauty and the joy that is unique to this journey.