21 November 2014
Dear friends and family,
I am quite certain that I have already written about waiting. It has been a steady theme over the last decade for me. For someone so eager for constant change and exploration, I am still surprised at the sheer length and enduring focus of this latest chapter. The waiting began with the children. I waited for them to come out. Later, I waited for their naps to end. Then I waited for them as they explored their world, dawdling on uncertain feet. I waited for Steve to come home. After Steve’s accident, I waited to see how far he would heal, what our life would be. Somehow, I’m still waiting. Waiting while my children grow. Waiting for more time, more space. Waiting for clarity. Waiting for the promises long ago laid on my heart to come to fruition. Waiting to put deeds to my desires. There is a strong sense that any hasty action would be foolish. Around my heart two words steadily reverberate: be patient. So, I wait.
In my bible, I harvest every example of waiting. Hidden among the big stories are the small, pregnant phrases that indicate the years between the promise and its fulfillment. I have been collecting them in the seemingly endless days of my own great pause. I linger over words so short, so ordinary I had not seen them before. Now, I gather them up, adding them to my basket, increasingly heaped with the ordinary years and days and hours between the miracles. Sifting through them, I am not alone.
This is the subtext, the unwritten story behind the biblical narrative. I peer between the lines and wonder what Paul did in the three years between his blinding encounter with Jesus and the beginning of his action-packed missionary adventures. I wonder what Sarah felt during the twenty-five years between the initial promise to her husband of a nation and the day she finally held Isaac in her arms. I wonder how Noah felt, building an ark, decade after decade, peering at a cloudless sky. I wonder what David thought during the many years of service and persecution at the hands of another king, the words of his own anointing ringing in his ears.
God speaks and we are in awe. But in the long and often dreary pause between the promise and its fulfillment, we wander in a wilderness of longing and doubt, the rugged terrain of faith. We trudge on, peering through glasses filmed with dust. Hope ebbs and flows, briefly cleansing our view. We subsist on smaller assurances, little certainties, occasional signs of progress. At times we are so fixed on the horizon that we fail to see the beauty of the path itself.
In a cultural environment that praises action and takes pride in productivity, waiting takes courage. We talk about what we do, what we have done, what we plan to do. Friends I do not see very often want to know what is happening. There are things to say but also much that remains the same. The only truly significant movement remains in my heart, but it is excruciatingly slow and often difficult to articulate. The hard work of the soul, the sifting of desire and the building of character are no longer values we discuss with any fluency.
Meanwhile, God also waits. Like the father of the prodigal son, he allows us our freedom and our mistakes, waiting for the slightest sound of our return, ready to embrace. He is ever watchful, yet he does not rush. He waits until we are ready. In my own mothering, I must often resist the desire to interfere. A child must learn to walk on his own. The art is to know how close to stand, and when to let go. It takes diligent observation and deep engagement, while at the same time remaining unobtrusive, so as to permit freedom. I imagine God watching me like that, vigilant when I stumble, patient when I wander, near when I am troubled, yet never forcing me to seek his help.
Eight years ago, we went to Israel. Beginning in the verdant hills of Galilee, we wound our way gradually south, until we reached the desert. Getting off the bus for the first time, I tasted the thick air, my mouth almost immediately dry. The heat enveloped our tiny tour. It was almost difficult to breathe. I imagined the Israelites, gathering up manna each morning, packing up their tents, walking, pitching them again, and falling asleep in that thick heat, in that barren landscape for forty years, between a promise and its fulfillment. It was not hard to imagine bitterness, complaining. And yet God waited in their midst. Watching closely over them, he waited for their hearts to turn toward him. He waited for them to be ready.
A generation later, when they were ready, he took them into the Promised Land. The ensuing tale is brutal and gripping, full of gory battles and bold leaps of faith. The fulfillment of the promise was hard work. It took more years. It cost more lives. After years of my own impatience, it occurs to me suddenly that perhaps I should not be so hasty for the fulfillment of the promise. Perhaps I am not ready. It will be costly, after all.
On good days, I am glad that my father in heaven will know when I am ready. On good days, I remember he is close, omnipotent even, but also unobtrusively permitting me to walk on my own. On good days, I wait with hope, even expectancy and joy. On good days I see the beauty of the path, and I note the small progression. On good days, I am patient for I know that I am blessed to wait on him.
Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you… blessed are those who wait for Him. Isaiah 30:18