Waiting is hard work. And the practice of waiting well seems like an art that has to be acquired. At least I have yet to meet a person who naturally waits well. Either people have learned how to wait over time, sometimes the hard way, or they still struggle with it.
Nevertheless, the fact of life is that we all wait, or have to, during different times of our lives. We wait for a paper to be finished, to meet a special someone, or for a baby to arrive – only to find ourselves waiting again for something else once this has arrived. If you ever were in for a long wait, you might know how hard it can be. There are manifold ways in which we human beings can respond to waiting. We get impatient, passive, or angry, we give up or give in to despair. Jesus would not have encouraged any of those responses in the first place, and none of them help make waiting any easier.
Within the last six months or so, I have seen several friends struggling with a long, hard wait, while finding myself in a similar situation. Prayer did not bring a quick answer. Proactively going about the situation did not provide any results either. We’ve all been asking, yet the answer still has to come. We know and believe that God will come through in His own time and in His own way but this knowledge has not made the waiting any more pleasant.
Yet, lately, I’ve been wondering whether there can be more to waiting than simply to endure it? Maybe it is more about how we wait and what God is doing in and through us while we wait, rather than the outcome or the appointed time for it to end. Maybe it is more about trusting the One we are waiting on.
As I look to the Bible for answers, I once again stumble over Jn. 11:5-6, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.” This strikes me as fairly odd. These verses seem to be telling me that because Jesus loved Mary and Martha, he, who has healed thousands of strangers, waited for two whole days to come to the help of their beloved brother.
I’m not the first person to be puzzled by these verses. In her book Work the Wait, Stephanie Voiland reflects on them and finds herself on the same page with Mary and Martha who exclaim, “Lord, if only you had been here.” Voiland’s first reaction is “to cry ‘Hello! Why were you waiting?’” I can’t blame her. Yet, she goes on to write that “[w]ith our limited vision, Mary, Martha, and I couldn’t see God sometimes doesn’t give us what we request so he can give us something better. (…) Granted, a healing would have been amazing. But Jesus had a bigger plan that couldn’t occur without Lazarus’s time in the grave.”
None of us likes waiting at the grave; yet in the light of Calvary it proves to be a deeply Christian experience. And the hope of Calvary is that waiting never ends in the grave but will have to give way to resurrection.
This resurrection, however, may sometimes look quite different from what we would hope it to be. Which reminds me of what Phil Long said about the Promised Land: it wasn’t a land that provided the most stable situation for God’s people in terms of warless living or predictable harvests. Rather than being a place of complete comfort, maybe the Promised Land was more about trusting God no matter what the circumstances are. Are we ready to be in such a place yet? Maybe this is what the wilderness and the waiting do. They shape our hearts in such a way that we are able to enter this place of greater faith and trust in God, which is something worth waiting for.