I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word, I put my hope.
I arose as usual to read the lectionary at church and knocked the Bible clear off the lectern. It hit the ground with an unholy thud. Gasps could be heard from the front two rows. Next, I forgot the scripture I was reading. All transpired in front of over four hundred congregants. It was not my best day. I was off-balance. At the rear of the church after the “show,” one of my favorite older ladies was giggling and whispered, “It was a sign from the heavens!” The truth—I was suffering silently from the universal human condition of “waiting” for something that could either make or break my heart.
Have you been there— that unnerving “purgatory of waiting” where you are desperate to either stop or fast-forward time and manifest a desired outcome for yourself or someone you love?
At any given moment, we are all waiting for the beginning or the ending of something. We wait for dreams to come true. We wait for answers to prayers. We wait to hear “I love you,” or “I’m sorry.” We wait for medical tests and their results. We wait for new life, new possibilities, new adventures. We wait for a second chance. We wait for relief from betrayal, heartbreak, pain and grief. We wait for a sign of hope. We wait for death.
Waiting in my experience can either feel like you are crossing a black hole on a tight rope, or you are about to crest a new and exciting vista.
In my case, during the Bible-dropping moment, I was waiting for a significant medical scan for my daughter. I was on day two of a five day “waiting” bender. To say the least, “the waiting” had turned me upside down and sideways. I was in the grind of worry and doing my best to muscle through. Nothing compares to the suffering endured when our hearts are waiting on behalf of someone we love.
The tension in waiting is unavoidable and will leave us at different times in our lives uncomfortably vulnerable, tender—desperate. Impatience does not change outcomes. Humbling it is when we realize we cannot muscle-arm our destinies. Easily the fight or flight instinct sets in and our emotions swing from fear and anger to peace and hope, and back again.
The harsh reality is there will be questions and scenarios that we will wait with patience and faith and not receive answers or see evidence of redemption on this side of heaven. Seasons of anger and dangerous disappointment with God are to be expected. It is a scary state of being but much scarier if we turn our backs on God. Cosmic timing does not match our own. We are short-sighted. God is focused on a long view where redemption and love become the final punctuation on our stories.
Faith has little to do with theology and everything to do with one’s capacity to hold on to God in the mucky trenches of waiting and suffering. Faith is revealed in our capacity to hope without knowing what will be.
Waiting on unavoidable death is our most significant trial. Recently, I visited the house of my dear friend in the last stage of her life. I was touched by the signs written in a child’s hand above every door: You are entering a place of peace. Beautiful and healing when we can make the ground supporting us in the waiting sacred and of God.
To wait with faith requires patience and superhuman trust. Transformative when we can look forward with anticipation and hope for what new and good thing God will do next. Only through surrender do we begin to access God’s peace.
Following are ways I find grounding and peace in the waiting. They are also helpful in the province of grief.
- Reach out to a select group of people whom you trust and share your burden. There is relief knowing you are not alone and someone else is lifting you in prayer.
- So many hormones and emotions, many of which are anxiety-charged, flow through us when we are waiting. Exercise with a good sweat releases anxiety and helps regain calm in the face of the unknown.
- Self-care: music, lavender, Epson soaks, a cup of herbal tea, a cozy blanket. I cook. Find ways to love yourself well in the waiting.
- Journal your thoughts. Once they are on paper, the fear loses some of its power. We then can formulate healthier responses, a “hope in action” stratagem.
- Put flowers on the kitchen table: They are tiny triggers of hope in your living space.
- Reach out to someone who is in a worse situation than you. Take care of them. This past weekend we took meals to Afghan refugee families. It helped to put into perspective my own suffering.
- Get outside into Nature: I have made some serious ruts walking the paths at Radnor Lake. I always return to my life and the waiting with more balance and increased hope.
- Pray without ceasing. Be bold and ask God for what you need.
- Scriptures: The Psalms provide a model for “waiting on God.” They encourage me to hang-in and trust that God will come through.
- Perform Rituals: For me, using oils, candles, reciting scriptures, and intoning prayers remind me that I am not alone and without resources. There is a spiritual reality larger than myself working on my behalf. Incredible when we can meet the internal and external chaos with tangible efforts of hope.