Author’s note: It was two years ago that our family received unsettling news that began an extended holding pattern for us, news which wouldn’t be resolved for another eleven months. That period of gray, unsettled twilight will stand out in my life as one where I became well-acquainted–more than I would have wished, for sure–with the chisel of God that is waiting.
Yet in an odd way, it also brought me to love its sculpting edges, planing away curls of my own impatience and distrust.
Waiting still twists me inside. But perhaps now it’s a little like waiting for marinated chicken to come out of the slow cooker: Why would I want to speed up the timing to rob the richness of perfection–or make me and those I love sick?
As I wrote below (a version of this post first appeared on another blog of mine), so much of life is waiting. Even now, I find myself in that place where you might say my soul is holding my breath; that God reminds me He is what fills my lungs, and nothing else.
It was eleven months. Long ones.
I’ll acknowledge that in the spool of eternity this is only a scrap of thread. Yet waiting seems to tug extra thread from that spool, causing time to stand heavy, still, and sweltering as the air of a Mississippi August. Waiting, I have decided, and of course every shade of pain, are two of God’s most effective chisels on the soul.
In October 2013, my heart skipped a beat with an e-mail from our office administrator—one of those good news/bad news kind of messages. The good news: The Ugandan government had approved our work permit for another year. The bad news: This permit was scrawled with the word “last”. As in, this is your last one.
As we researched this, its finality seemed hazy. A few had appealed with success, but others had been required to zip closed their African life, wheel their belongings into a 757, and depart this country.
So much seemed to hang in the unsteady balance: Our investment of ministry and finances, language acquisition and cultural adaptation, vital relationships and family adjustments.
But much more than that, it felt like a dream, tied by the hands and feet, and laid on an altar of stones. Would this be the time God provided a ram, or did He have something different in mind?
There’s a fair chance that you, too, are waiting: hopeful, perhaps with fear crackling around the edges. Could be the success of a medical treatment, the news on a job, the end of a semester or trimester, or the end of singleness.
So much of life, from Heaven to the oven timer, is waiting.
God seemed to be whispering that I should not waste my waiting, in its refining work for the soul.
Waiting seemed to give rise to so many of my spirit’s occasionally irreverent and usually quite revealing questions, releasing them to bubble to the surface. Why would God seem to bring us to full stride in our work—His work!—here, then pile us on a plane? Why us? What if I have to go back, and why does that make me feel so afraid? Does my own will match God’s?
Waiting is a deeply spiritual work, I think, where faith is road-tested. It’s part of the Bible’s DNA: waiting for freedom from slavery, deliverance from exile, the fullness of time to finally bring the Promised One. Waiting for Him to finally make His kingdom come in all its fullness and staggering beauty. God’s patience, His process seems so rarely to match mine. (But then again, I marinate in the age Hot Pockets and 4G internet. So there’s that.)
Waiting is when my faith makes choices. Toward trust or fear. Toward my will or His. Toward a disciplined peace or a scattered, searching anxiety. It jerks back the curtain of comfort to reveal what I am clutching to myself, what has become so dear that the heart feels suspended in mid-air.
For me, it was a sense of purpose, identity, and flourishing that—among all of their Godward benefits—had erected themselves as an idol in my heart.
Mine were questions I thought I’d answered. But the waiting left them naked, exposed, bare in their faithlessness and restlessness. And during those eleven months, God walked with me, settling my soul’s unsettled parts once again, pressing them deeply into Him and all I knew Him to be.
It’s not the wanting itself that is bad, I’m reminded. Jesus Himself wanted to be freed from the Cross to the point that He sweat drops of blood. Yet His desires were intricately, exquisitely ordered below God’s: Not my will, but Your will be done.
As I read today, “It is death to self, rather than the embracing of self, that saves your life (Luke 9:23; Matthew 16:25)”.
So imagine the shriek that filled our neighborhood at long last when my friend Semei ducked his dark head through our gate, bearing his trademark broad grin and waving a thin piece of paper. “I have good news!” he shouted. My heart dropped in my chest. I swallowed. Surely not, after eleven months.
Could it even be over?
And yet—it is. We have permission, for now, to stay another three years.
Even in leaving, I would not have been put to shame (see Psalm 25:3). But He chose to remember our family in this way. To say, I do have plans for you here. Tears leaked from my eyes as I hugged friends and jumped up and down, and as my children and I huddled to pray in thanks in the dust of our driveway.
Maybe you’re waiting for something, too. If you are?
Don’t waste the waiting.