I’m not very good at waiting. I don’t like it.
When my wife and I are going going out for dinner, if there’s a line for a table, we’ll find a different restaurant. I start getting crabby if I’m officiating at a wedding and it doesn’t begin at the appointed hour. I go to some trouble to find the best time to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles so I don’t have to wait in line.
I don’t like waiting.
And then I come across passages like these:
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning. (Psalm 130:5-6, ESV)
they who wait for the Lord
shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary
they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)
For nearly three months, I’ve been on sabbatical, and while I haven’t really had to wait much — thank God! — I have had more slow time than normal. My rhythms have become different. And I think I just might be coming to a different perspective about this waiting thing.
When there is no down time, the progression of events is from one thing to the next. I do this one thing — write an essay, for instance. And then I do the next thing. Let’s say it’s going out for dinner. And if there is time between those two things that I did not account for, it feels like an unneeded obstacle between the two things. An irritation. An annoyance. A waste of time when I should be doing something else.
Though I admit I’m not very good at this, I am working at seeing the interludes between things as ways to slow down, opportunities to rest my mind, nuggets of time to pay attention to relationships, unexpected occasions to find some joy (rather than frustration!) in the moment.
And I’ve also been thinking about whether there’s something more theological here as well, something more related to the life of the Spirit. In a culture that has little time for waiting, we (read: I) want everything now. Instant gratification is the way of the world, at least the North American world.
Yet waiting and faith seem to be somehow closely related. By faith we wait for the fulfillment of promises that we have not yet seen. By faith, we know that God is at work in the world and that God’s vision for the kingdom has not yet come to fruition. As the community of the graced, who have been given faith, we do not yet have it all, we do not yet see it all, we do not yet know it all, we are not able yet to hold on to it all. We live by faith. It’s part of our condition that we live with longing for what we know is possible, what we know is coming, and what we do not yet hold in our hands. There is no instant gratification when it comes to the purposes of God. We pray for peace, and we wait for peace. We pray for healing, and we wait for healing. We pray for the redemption of all creation, and we wait for the redemption of all creation.
I don’t mean to suggest that waiting is the same thing as passivity, that we just wait for our lives to pass by in a kind of unholy determinism. We work, it’s true. For most of us, the work part is not the problem. We do know how to work. What I need to be reminded of is that while I work, there are things that are are not up to me, that are up to the breath of the Spirit at work in the world. We do live by faith. Which just may be another way of saying, we wait. On the Lord.
Jim, this is particularly poignant today, as I listen on NPR to a long interview by Studs Terkel, who rode one of the trains from Chicago to Washington DC for the historic march. The voices of those he interviewed kept coming back, in one way or another, to the waiting, the long, endless waiting they had done, were doing, and would keep doing. They waited on behalf of their children and mine. They waited for the cause of justice. They waited in hope. They waited in faith. Thanks for adding your reflections to the mix of my pondering today.
Carolyn, thanks so much for your thoughtful response, reaction. As always. Your words come to me as gift!