Seasons of waiting can be excruciating. The other day I was chatting with a close friend who’s going through a difficult pregnancy. Although she and her husband are thrilled about becoming first-time parents, my friend is battling through a series of torturous health issues. Some of them are related to the pregnancy, some of them are not. Some of them are medication side effects. Some of the additional health issues have occurred at the most random and inconvenient intervals within the last couple of days, which is only compounding the stress and agony of waiting on this little pain in the butt — er, I mean — little bundle of joy to arrive in November. Indeed if it weren’t for the seriousness of the situation, it would almost seem satirical or unrealistic at this point. In a recent text message exchange, I even said, “You just can’t catch a break.” Undoubtedly the next several months will seem to like a hellish eternity at times. And even after the birth, many physical trials and challenges will likely still remain.
In praying for my friend as she awaits the birth of her first child, I found myself reflecting on the mysterious, perplexing and often utterly infuriating concept of “waiting.” Naturally, it is most difficult to wait when we cannot see or predict the likely outcome or, particularly, when we are in pain during the season of waiting itself. This pain could be physical, mental, emotional or even spiritual. It could even be all of these combined. Regardless, it would obviously be much easier to wait if we were at least promised some sort of positive outcome at the end.
Your baby will be beautiful and healthy and you will recover well.
Your family will come out stronger on the other side of this horrible divorce.
Your career ambitions and endeavors will flourish after you graduate.
Your church will have an amazing explosion of growth and record attendance numbers by this time next year.
Your prodigal child will come home one day.
The surgery will be a success.
You’ll eventually meet your soulmate and live happily ever after.
If only God could throw these specific promises out to us as anchors in the midst of life’s tumultuous storms, perhaps then we would at least feel the overwhelming reassurance of tranquility and peace while we “wait.” Perhaps then we wouldn’t find ourselves begging for just the slightest bit of affirmation; just the smallest bit of scraps from the Table of Divine Comfort & Security.
But, as you know, God is not in the business of doling out inspirational quotes that read more like motivational speech titles than biblical truths. So, although you’re trying to keep your head above water, you probably feel like you’re drowning. You probably identify with the psalmist David: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2) Not exactly the sort of wording or phraseology you seek to find on one of those cheesy motivational posters at Walmart.
I’ve grappled with this verse off and on for many years, particularly since my childhood Epilepsy returned in 2009 after being dormant for almost two decades. Of course, the “enemy” could be anything from sickness and pain to job searches or broken relationships. And as we are in the heat of the battle — and in the season of waiting — we desperately want to know ‘how long?' “How long must I wait?”
In answering this question, I have no great theological wisdom or exegetical interpretations with which to impress you, nor would I even do so if I did possess such attributes and abilities. There are many pastors, teachers, biblical scholars, and authors who can accomplish this far better than I can. (And some who do so and still wind up saying nothing of value.) Moreover, I do not even have the answer for your specific timetable or season of waiting. There is only One who does, and I shall leave that up to Him. What I do have is a personal Journey of Waiting — one which I am still in the midst of — that has taught me to embrace the incredible rewards and joys of simply waiting, as painful and uncertain as the process itself may be at times, and to anticipate whatever God may have on the horizon.
To further illustrate this beyond David, I turn to the all-too-familiar account of the prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament (the original pessimist who actually turned out to be a realist because God really did allow the city of Jerusalem to fall to an invader, despite what the false prophets of his day were saying.) If there’s anyone who understands the painful process of waiting, it’s Jeremiah. He’s often referred to as “the weeping prophet,” and who could blame him? After all, the poor guy witnessed exorbitant amounts of sin, wickedness and debauchery among his people, as well as famine and starvation, the likes of which even compelled “the hands of compassionate women” to “boil their own children” so that they “became food for them.” (Lamentations 4:10)
But, Jeremiah also exhibited great determination, persistence and patience. For over 40 years he continued to preach his repetitive and socially-unaccepted message of warnings and repentance to a sinful people who refused to turn back to God. In short, Jeremiah waited. He could have left. He could have walked away. He could have given up altogether. Instead, he remained unflinchingly still, right where God wanted him. Can you imagine investing over four decades of your time, passion, zeal and energy into generating a desired outcome only to never see it come to fruition? That seems like a lot of futile effort and pointless waiting. Most of us can hardly commit to a Netflix account or smartphone brandname for six months.
The more I study and meditate on “Biblical Waiters” like David and Jeremiah — and reflect upon my own life and circumstances — the more I see an incredible Truth: These men didn’t place their hope in what God may or may not do for them specifically. They just trusted in God. Period. Why? Because they knew the character and heart of God. And that was enough. Did they still struggle with their faith and wallow in misery and impatience at times? Absolutely. (Jeremiah 12:5 ) They were human beings. Nevertheless, they were willing to follow God and take risks for Him. Maybe it’s just me, but I think that says a lot.
And, in the kingdom of God, waiting often has beautiful rewards and benefits. David would go down in history as a man after God’s own heart. Jeremiah would become the human manifestation and subsequent representation of God’s mercy, grace and restraint. When we wait, we learn to develop patience. God sharpens us, refines us, and builds our character. He prepares us for the plans that He has for us. Waiting forces us to stop, be still, and spend intimate time with Him. Then we can become ever more dependent upon Him, which only leads to deeper growth, connection and more abundant joy. Talk about rewards.
I’ve come to see my season of waiting quite differently now. I no longer view it through a lens of inconvenience and frustration, but through a lens of opportunity, possibility and hope. This isn’t because I’m an optimist or because I’m clinging to some grand and glorious vision from God. It’s because I’m clinging to Him. Just Him. In the end, that’s all I really have to do. It’s all I need to do. He knows what my future holds. He has my best interests at heart. He provides my daily needs. That’s enough for me.
It’s all about growing and developing during the process of waiting. Even that can be an unexpected and joyful reward (not to mention an exciting adventure.)
Are you in a season of waiting? My challenge to you would be to remember that there are rewards to be found during this time — the most incredible and valuable of which is the opportunity to cling to God rather than cling to whatever particular desired outcome you were seeking. Slow down, take a deep breath and allow God to handle the outcome. He has the eternal perspective in mind. And that outcome will be so much better and healthier than anything we could have imagined or created for ourselves. Remember that waiting isn’t just about surviving and making it to the end of the journey, it’s also about growing and developing one’s character along the way.
Jeremiah and David learned this well. Will you?