whytheology

For the Intersection of the Everyday and the Sacred

On Waiting

So recently, I’ve been growing increasingly impatient with this waiting business. It seems like all I’ve been doing is waiting.

For those of you reading this who don’t know, let me give you some background:

As of the writing of this post I currently don’t have a job. It’s not that I’m lazy. I’m also a full time student.

Here’s the thing, though: I have no idea where my family and I are going to be. We may be moving across the country or around the world, but I have no idea where. In 3-4 months some big change is very likely, but I have no idea what it is going to look like. So I’ve been waiting.

Here’s the other thing: it feels like I’ve been waiting for much, much longer. While all of my peers have been out buying houses and “climbing the ladder” of their respective careers, I’ve still been in school. My wife and I have often commented on how it feels like we’re waiting for our “real life” to start. To stop living on a student budget. To get a decent car, and nice smartphones. To start putting money toward the purchase of a house. To finally be “adults.”

Common wisdom, and what we’re often told, is simply to be patient. To wait and see what wonderful plans God has in store for us. Now I don’t think that’s entirely off the mark. Yet something that my wife has been trying to tell me, but which has only sunk in little bits at a time, and something I’ve been thinking about has started to change my perspective. And here’s the result: I’m through waiting.

Changing my outlook

While it may be true that patience is a virtue, or at least one of the fruit of the spirit, we are mistaken if we assume that this means we are called to wait around. Patience, at least as I read the New Testament, is always in the context of relationships. We are to be patient with other people. It is a disposition toward someone, even if that is ourselves. It’s transitive (sorta), not intransitive.

Now, for the sake of my children, I’m glad I haven’t been just sitting around all day waiting for my life to begin before I acted as a parent. Clearly, they aren’t going to wait around for me to get my act together before they learn to ride a bike, or play their first board game, or learn how to read. I can’t patiently wait in that aspect of my life. In the past the result has been that my life felt disjointed. Things were moving so slow on one front (starting my “real life”), while moving so quickly on the other (my family). It seems I got it all out of order. But what if it wasn’t out of order. What if it was exactly as it was supposed to be.

Paul tells the Church, in the letter to the Roman Christians, that whatever it is we are doing, we should be doing to the glory of God. By God’s grace I hope I’m doing that with my kids. But can I be “waiting” for the glory of God. To say yes means that “waiting” is something that we do. But that seems to fly in the face of all experience. The thing is, when we wait we aren’t doing something. Now, granted, their can be purposeful waiting, but this is more of an anticipation of something that is going to happen. It seems to have purpose. So much of my waiting felt without purpose. But if I truly take Paul’s message to heart, what I’m doing can’t be purposeless.

Those drafts of chapters that seem to be bleeding red ink when I get them back. They aren’t wastes of time, they’re me glorifying God in my mistakes and in the small bits that somehow carry through to the next draft. The time spent filling out applications for places that will send me “dear applicant” letters aren’t me throwing time away. It is me pantingly following the course I believe God has laid out for me. If I’m mistaken, well as Martin Luther said “Sin boldly that boldly you may be forgiven.”

Waiting versus Waiting

In his, now infamous, play “Waiting for Godot,” Samuel Becket follows the experience of two hapless men waiting. They’re supposed to meet this guy, Godot, but neither of them knows who Godot is, or what he looks like. To complicate matters, neither of them are entirely sure as to when they are supposed to meet Godot, or even where the meeting is supposed to take place. However, they are both convinced they are meant to meet Godot, and so they wait for him.

Time is somewhat ambiguous in the play, but it seems that between the two scenes a considerable amount of time has passed. Yet the two men, Estragon and Vladimir, are still waiting, finding things to fill their time, and complaining they have nothing to do. At the end of each scene the pair decide that, rather than continue to wait, they will depart. Yet neither of them does. And so they wait, largely not doing anything.

Despite the similarity of sounds in English, Becket was adamant that Godot should not be understood as God (the play was initially written in French and the names largely unchanged; Godot does not sound like the French Dieu). Yet, given the highly spiritual and biblical discussion of the pair, it would be a mistake to assume that there is no spiritual commentary that might be garnered from this intentionally absurd play. For many Christians, we are told that waiting is a good thing. While waiting on the Lord is certainly praised in the Old Testament, perhaps e should be clear. There is waiting and there is waiting.

Waiting in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) seems to be not only purposeful, but active. Waiting isn’t sitting around and not doing anything, as is the case in “Waiting for Godot,” but involves seeking, preparation, service. When in Ecclesiastes 3 it says that God blesses those who wait on Him, it couples this with further declarations to seek after God. Waiting, in the Bible, isn’t just sitting around while nothing happens, but is our intentional seeking of God. We search and glorify God in the otherwise mundane, ordinary, and basic.

As Brother Lawrence said,

Men invent means and methods of coming at God’s love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God’s presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?

and again

We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God

So there is waiting, comprised of “doing nothing”, and there is waiting, comprised of seeking and following God, of honoring God in the little things, in the minutiae of life. That shift in perspective can mean wonders.

Now, I’m not saying I’ve got it figured out, or that I don’t get frustrated by the empty sort of waiting. I just pray that I can spend more days seeking God’s presence where I am, and fewer promising myself to abandon the empty waiting only to return to it the next day. The truth is, though, that we weren’t made for that empty sort of waiting. We were created to do something, and to wait differently. To glorify God in what otherwise seems like the in-between. We wait with purpose, and we don’t need to wait because God is here, his Kingdom is at work. Perhaps, we don’t really wait, but we act. Maybe my writing now, my failed attempts to get to a final draft of my dissertation, my research that sometimes hits a dead end, maybe it is all far more important than I can possibly fathom. Maybe it’s the same with you.

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3 thoughts on “On Waiting

  1. estherdwumaa on said:

    Thank you for your article- it really is close to home for me. I have only just started a job which I got after more than a year of searching for jobs-during which time I did housework, went on different customer service training courses, did an administration work experience and did one day a week of volunteering. I had graduated in 2012 with a degree in Sociology and was left with the daunting task of ‘finding’ the next step-which was to look for a job, it seemed. While still studying I did some volunteering. This time of waiting has also been filled with church days and home time and my own journey with my relationship with God (and it has been a journey). I’m very grateful and scary excited about my new job and I’m glad you’ve found peace and productivity during your time of waiting. I’m glad that this time has helped you to grow in your intimacy with God.

  2. estherdwumaa on said:

    Just to add, while waiting I did feel lazy as well, which is why it’s good to get yourself doing something!

  3. estherdwumaa on said:

    Or get myself doing something! (Speak for myself-sorry, cheeky)!
    Blessings

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