Last week I was remarkably privileged to spend three days with global women from around the world. I love the work of Thrive, a ministry which works diligently to provide a respite from the very real demands of cross-cultural work. Personally, you know a bit of the discombobulated state in which I left for the retreat.
It was in the meal line when I was laughing with a young 20-something who’d just left her home in Sweden after years serving there. As I reached for the fresh berries (berries! I missed those in Uganda. I may have taken an inappropriate amount, maybe four times), I was getting her name, her country of service, her tenure. “And you’re back now?” I asked.
Her: “Yup. Um, transition stinks.”
Me: “Yes. Yes, it does.”
Some of the very least favorite parts of my life are the days of waiting. Which I guess doesn’t say that much. So much of life is waiting for something.
Perhaps the most distinctively etched in my mind are the eleven months we waited for whether our work permit would be revoked in Uganda. It was only a year after we felt we were finally gaining traction there. I’m in a different twilight now, stretching long and cloudy to see what God has for me in a new place. Some of the blackest parts of waiting are the questions, the what ifs that wrap icy fingers around my chest, squeezing just enough to keep me from breathing deeply. It’s a rapid-fire tutorial about the full spectrum of what I can’t control–and honestly, exposing my unvarnished fear and sometimes unbelief. Waiting, I think, is a lot like a famous Saturday: the one between dying and a mind-blowing resurrection. (It’s coming, right, Lord? Tell me it’s coming.)
From my experience, it needs to be said: Saturday can really stink.
I’ve thought what Mary and Martha must have felt when their brother lay fatally ill, the one man who could help deliberately withholding himself from coming, from doing anything. Maybe I love Martha’s honest words the most: Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
Read (as a friend paraphrased for me): The drama is here, and you’re there. It might have felt, my friend mused, like a betrayal of hospitality, of friendship. He must have felt distant to them—not present.
And yet, He was completely aware. (Did that make it harder for His friends, I wonder?) Turns out He waited because He wanted to show them something new. Something that would revolutionize who they knew Him to be.
I love Martha’s hope, too, in the waiting: Even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.
Waiting takes its own brand of muscle. I think of it as holding a workout position, that burn that spreads through your taut core or biceps or quads. What the instructor requests can so often seem beyond capacity. As with any workout, the muscle is first broken down. It will be days before the product of waiting is visible, ready for use.
Sometimes I’m just so very done with uncertainty. I’m ready to call the shots out of my own fear or discomfort. But I repeatedly find Peter Scazzero’s cautionary words poignant as I steer away from waiting, struggling, or utilizing the choices God’s joyfully given me:
I, like Abraham, had birthed many ‘Ishmaels’ in my attempt to help God’s plan move forward more efficiently.[i]
God’s promises to those of us here in the grayness of waiting? They’re sweeping. Breathtaking, even. God waits to be gracious to us; to have compassion on us. To those who wait, He satisfies their desires. They’re never put to shame. They’ll have the strength they need, rising with wings as eagles. He’s their help. Their shield.
Chances are healthy that you’re waiting on something right now. (Maybe that’s why Hosea says, Wait for your God continually.) Maybe, like me, it requires you to lean in to belief and peace, choosing them over and over when fear is so much more naturally consuming. Maybe, like me, you’ll be surprised when He shows up, bringing life with him.