Life requires that we wait—sometimes solo. The very thought of it can undo us, especially if we’re suffering. We wait for a diagnosis. We wait to heal from the loss of a betrayal. We wait to recover from the death of someone we love. We wait for a prodigal son to return home. We wait for a marriage to be restored. Those are the biggies.
Then there’s the more mundane waiting: we wait in lines, we wait at traffic lights, we wait to catch a flight, we wait to be promoted, we wait till we have enough money to buy what we want, and sometimes we wait for a second chance. The problem is we aren’t good at waiting. It makes us uncomfortable. We want what we don’t have—and we have what we don’t want.
Waiting is hard, and the reason it’s hard is because we’re impatient. We’re so busy wanting results that we don’t notice what waiting can produce in us. The truth is we can learn from waiting if we begin to think differently about it, and if we condition our hearts to that which is most necessary: Learning.
Jesus waited. He waited to be about His Father’s business. He waited before He went to raise Lazarus from the dead. He waited to turn the water into wine. He waited for Judas to betray him. He waited to die. And in the waiting, He modeled some things for us that can change our lives if we’re willing to embrace a different perspective.
Jesus modeled dependence on His Father. He modeled the power of prayer. He modeled how to surrender our rights. He modeled how to handle being misunderstood, rejected, and humiliated. He gave us a real life example of how to live and wait.
Waiting can be maddening, but it drives us to dependence like nothing else can. The question is whom shall we depend on in our waiting—God or ourselves? I confess that I often do not wait wisely. I’m more interested in knowing the outcomes. I’m impatient because I want to know the answers. I’m uncomfortable not knowing the whys, and when I do all those things I’m really not trusting.
How can you and I harness the power of waiting? How can we learn to wait wisely? Here are a few things that can help:
Most of us are on overdrive. We are moving so fast through life that we barely recognize how all the running keeps us from really knowing ourselves. It’s hard to do much of anything when we’re disconnected from ourselves. Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” To heed his advice, we have to learn to slow down, wait, and reflect. Developing awareness gives us space to decide what’s really important. It brings into sharper focus who we want to become and gives us the time to examine our hearts to explore how the different parts of ourselves may need tending. Cultivating awareness can also teach us the good things that waiting can produce in us.
Notice and learn
The next time you have to wait for something—notice. What goes on in your physical body? Do you get irritated at the mundane things you have to wait for? Does your heart beat faster? Do you feel tension, anxiety, or anger? If so, this will provide you with an opportunity to learn some good techniques to calm yourself. Things like muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and learning to scan your body for stress and tension can all help you to learn to become comfortable being uncomfortable, a necessary part of learning to wait patiently. Noticing will help you discover where some of the angst of waiting is coming from. If you’re prone to blow your stack or feel anxiety when you have to wait, ask yourself where that originated. Was it learned behavior? Did your parents model it? Ask yourself what you believe about having to wait. Once you’ve discovered your beliefs, you can work on modifying them.
Check your heart
Noticing your physiological responses to waiting is great, but you can’t stop there. You have to learn to pay attention to your heart, especially if the waiting you’re doing is in response to your heart being broken. If you’re waiting to heal from a loss, make sure you express your pain. Don’t bottle it up or avoid it. If you bury it, you’ll just bury it alive only to find it resurfacing later. Put words to your pain. Experience it. Bring your lament before God. Surrender your right to control outcomes and practice dependence.
Remember God waited
Suffering in isolation has little meaning, but when it’s shared, the dragons don’t seem as big and the darkness doesn’t seem as black. Jesus learned to wait on His Father. He did nothing without depending on Him. As He hung on the cross He waited as His Father turned His back on Him for the redemption of mankind. Jesus was totally alone in those moments before He took His last breath. The good news for us in our waiting is that we are never separated from God. He is present with us in our waiting. He wants us to discover those parts of ourselves that perhaps we have never taken time to look at because of our busyness. He wants us to grow those up so that when the mundane waiting gives way to that which threatens to overwhelm us, we’ll be equipped to handle it.
So whether you find yourself just coming out of a season of wilderness waiting, right in the middle of waiting for something that means life or death to you, or you’re standing in the shadows waiting to heal from a past loss and it’s tearing you to shreds, God is calling you—He’s shouting to you to wait patiently, and He promises to bring you through the struggle. “He ransoms me unharmed from the battle waged against me” (Psalm 51:18, NIV). And in Psalm 57:1, “I will seek refuge in the shelter of your wings until the disaster is passed” (WEB).
Waiting requires trust. Trust in a God who knows the way even if we believe we have a better one. So may we learn to relinquish control in our waiting. May we have faith to believe that waiting produces proven character, and may we give ourselves over with total abandon to depending on a God who can sustain us through the waiting.