“One of the greatest strains in life is the strain of waiting for God.” Oswald Chambers
I sift through the most difficult times of my life, draw circles around painful periods, connect the dots between each hard part, every challenging chapter. As I take inventory of my almost sixty years, I find that in some way every important page holds a story of waiting.
Often my waiting felt like wading through the weight of heaviness and fear mired deep in murky waters of questioning. How long would our adoption take? How many years of infertility would we face? How long would momma battle dementia? When would we know healing and restoration within our marriage?
From birth to grave we are asked to wait. It is a necessary requirement, a prerequisite for living. We often feel most human, most vulnerable when we are made to sit in a holding pattern. Like a plane low on fuel, asked to circle while it waits for its turn to land, we become dizzy and impatient.
Our course is altered, outcomes are on hold, as we hang in the balance of action and pause. We are a people on the move. And waiting goes against our “on the move” grain. For a generation or two we have become a people who are accustomed to instant gratification—a concept out of sync with waiting. Have we forgotten how to wait?
This “great strain,” of which Oswald Chambers writes, offers us beautiful opportunities for deeper dependence on God. Isn’t this where the growth comes, from strain and tumbling. We are the diamond in the rough. We are the pearl at the mercy of the oyster’s grit. We are the waiters. And yet, if we pay close attention, remaining awake to possibility, we will witness the miracle of His mercy laden timing unfold. Every time. We become like the pearl.
We encounter it on a deeply personal level when we rub up against anything that stops us from moving, acting, creating, and doing. All the “ing’s” that fuel our living. And yet, to wait in faith, to wait with trust, to wait wholly dependent on a God who holds me in the darkness of uncertainty—this is my spiritual challenge. And perhaps it is also yours.
Dependency replaces a mirage of independence. Our eyes see only what is before us. Waiting can feel inconvenient at best, the antithesis of what we need —now. It can feel painful and even cruel at its worst. But trust sees with certainty. And hope sees with a certainty that He holds the outcome.
We wait for change, for an answer, for healing. We wait for a baby. Reconciliation. Forgiveness. We wait for a prodigal to return, an apology to be spoken, or a disappointment to lose its sting. So much practice and yet I am a novice at the sport.
Perhaps, the secret to making peace with waiting is held in discovering how to wait well. To find peace in the place of tension. To learn to be held there, resting there in the faith that uncertainty brings. And to remember we are not alone in the silence. We are deeply loved and held. And God is at work beyond what we can see. Even through a spiritual lens. Faith knows this, remembers this, and trusts this.
But what I am learning, in a slow and meaningful way, is this. The waiting times, the dormant periods, those pauses and long stretches of stillness, they are critical to our maturity as believers.
If I look to those who have gone before and have recorded it in the Psalms, prose, memoir—with the gift of words—I can learn to bear, even love these periods of uncertainty. Because I am not alone. And the “go beforers” bear witness to what comes on the other side of waiting.
How do I allow the waiting to refine me, teach me, and shape me? Even before the answer arrives. Especially before the clarity comes. In the fuzzy pain of waiting, I can unveil the joy and the lessons that are there to be discovered. Intimate encounters with God shine brightest in the dark corner of the waiting place.
For people of faith, waiting finds us, or we find waiting, in a place marked and measured with hope. Elisabeth Elliot writes: “Waiting on God requires the willingness to bear uncertainty, to carry within oneself the unanswered question, lifting the heart to God about it whenever it intrudes upon one’s thoughts.”
Elliot writes:“ I realized that the deepest spiritual lessons are not learned by His letting us have our way in the end, but by His making us wait, bearing with us in love and patience until we are able to honestly pray what He taught His disciples to pray: Thy will be done.”
There is still so much work to be done in my life when it comes to refining the discipline of waiting. But it occurs to me that the opposite of a life marked by waiting, is a life defined by rushing ahead into a decision or moment. Before God. Ahead of God. It even may mean running away from discomfort and pain, rather than allowing a slow revealing of a spiritual truth.
And so I chose waiting. Even when it is chosen for me.
Wait with me. We do not wait alone.
Photo by Sebastian Pichler on Unsplash