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Teach us, O Lord, the disciplines of patience, for to wait is often harder than to work. –Peter Marshall
One of the hardest spiritual practices for me, and I believe for many, is the practice of waiting. Waiting for something to end, waiting for something to start, waiting for an arrival, waiting for a departure. No matter what, it seems we are always waiting on something. This seems particularly true in this season of pandemic. Many people have spent months now waiting; for a haircut, to see friends, to return to the sanctuary. And here we are, as things reopen many people’s waiting is over. Vacations are being scheduled, worship will be in person, dinner can be had out again, but even as all these things are happening at the end of some waiting, some other waiting begins. Doctors are waiting for the uptick in patients as the disease spreads through gatherings of people. Scientists are waiting until the expected second wave of the virus in the fall. Those of us who are at risk are waiting because others seemingly can’t wait and where we felt somewhat safe to go out, we now feel more afraid than ever.
Waiting, much like life doesn’t happen in a straight line and it doesn’t happen the same way for everyone. Our stories of waiting are like those we tell during lent about the followers of Jesus: one day they are filled with expectation as Jesus heals a leper and then the next they are suddenly filled with disillusionment, despair, and death. We know this time will have an end, that the grief-stricken and the broken will find a way back to a full and happy life for this is the promise of resurrection and the faith of waiting.
The truth is that most of our time is spent in the “in between.” Most of our time isn’t spent on vacation or getting married or having children. Most of our time is spent in the in between. The waiting. This is good, because growth happens in the waiting. Change happens in the waiting. But, we are not so good at engaging our waiting seasons.
At first when we wait, we tend to seek God. We have no answers, waiting for God to fulfill the desires of our heart. We then begin to pray. I have friends who have been praying for years to have a baby. Or to find their spouse. Or for deliverance from substance abuse. And the prayers don’t stop in the waiting. No, they get more intense. Finally, we begin to see the world differently. Maybe you won’t get the perfect test result today. Maybe the disease will still come. But, in that waiting, we experience God in others. The church becomes more than a building or an event, rather it now can be seen as a blessing, as the community of God. Here, in this time, we celebrate joys together and grieve together our sadness. Not because we have arrived, but because we are waiting, together.
It may be the non-in-between moments that keep us excited about life and motivated when we are not yet there yet, but we do not need to rush to get there. When we were young, many of us eagerly awaited growing one year older, for one more year of responsibility and thus one more year of freedom. Now we are older and we wait to meet someone who gets us and wants to share life with us. We wait for career changes, diagnoses, to see loved ones again, for family vacations, for next stages in life but we do it in a fast-paced consumer-driven society, where things seem to be available instantly.
Yet in this season of waiting, we are reminded time and again that so much of life that is out of our control and definitely not on-demand. While we began waiting by looking to God and asking for answers via prayer, when God again said “Wait” we instead became the little child with their hands folded in their lap – maybe tapping their feet, but silently, patiently, sitting on a bench, passing the time in quietness and growing impatient with each passing day as we perceived some of the world moving forward in ways we were not. In moments like this we begin to try to speed things up by taking matters into our own hands. While it is true that God uses us humans as tools to bring the reign of God to fruition and that we are supposed to look for solutions and not wait passively on God, it becomes a problem when we stop listening and just act. In waiting, we listen, God speaks, we act, then we listen all over again. Sometimes, we are called to wait and let others act, to stay where we are while watching for the dove to return.
Yet, it is also not true that to wait on God means stopping. We often see change and long for things to return to how they were, we feel if we wait long enough, and try hard enough we can make what we miss return quicker. All we need to do though is look around and we will recognize that even in this season where so much feels out of our control that our waiting is in full motion, and has never stopped. I find comfort in all the things going on at our church during the waiting. Waiting has taught us new ways to be church, to be more fully the church for all people. It has gathered people to be active parts of God’s plan in ways they never would have known otherwise. So much of life is lived while we wait. So let us not give in to the desire to return to what was, but let us watch and wonder where God is active right now in this waiting space between what was and what will be, and let us be alert so we may not miss all the living that is to go on in between.
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