Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!-Psalm 27:14
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning,
Waiting is essential to the spiritual life. But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting. It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for. We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus. We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit, and after the ascension of Jesus we wait for his coming again in glory. We are always waiting, but it is a waiting in the conviction that we have already seen God’s footsteps.Waiting for God is an active, alert – yes, joyful – waiting. As we wait we remember him for whom we are waiting, and as we remember him we create a community ready to welcome him when he comes.-Henri Nouwen
O Lord, give me patience and give it to me now.
I confess that has sometimes been the gist of my prayer (a variation on Augustine’s prayer: Give me chastity, but not yet). Patience has been on my mind lately. Maybe yours as well.
These days, each morning I’m reading through the book of the Acts of the Apostles. I noticed this throw-away line. Towards the end of the book, Paul has been arrested in Jerusalem. He awaits a hearing, first with the local authorities and ultimately with Caesar in Rome. He has a hearing with one guy, who listens for a bit, seems to get bored and sends Paul away. It says Paul was sent away to prison for two years before the second hearing was held. Two years. How did he deal with that time of waiting? Didn’t God realize there was important missionary work to be done?
The story of Moses in the book of Exodus tells us that after Moses had to flee Egypt, he went into the wilderness where he became a shepherd. A throw-away line tells us that he did that for forty years. I find myself wondering what Moses was thinking. What am I doing with this ancient near eastern ivy league education, hanging out for forty years, looking after livestock? Then one day he turned aside to converse with a burning bush. But not until the time was right.
Early in the gospel of Luke, we meet Simeon and Anna, two senior citizens who spent their lives in the temple, waiting to see the Messiah, waiting to see how God would act. Faithfully waiting. It sounds like they would have waited forever.
Waiting is a spiritual discipline. Patience is a spiritual virtue. We’re talking fruits of the Spirit. To put it mildly, these days I need more of that virtue to live out that discipline. I suspect we all know about waiting. Waiting for a vaccine. Waiting for covid restrictions to lift. Waiting to get a call back after an interview. Waiting in line to vote. Waiting for a doctor’s report. Waiting for an election season to pass. Waiting for a paycheck. Waiting for things to stop changing. Waiting for things to start changing.
So what does holy waiting look like? Henri Nouwen indicates that such waiting is not passive, but rather active (see quote above).
So what is that activity? I’ll name five ideas, five that I work on. You can add others. I’d love to hear what they are:
- Gratitude: A recognition, a mindfulness of the goodness that is part of the present. Some people make daily lists of those things for which they are grateful. Maybe one thing. Maybe 5. Maybe 100. Some people write daily notes to people to whom they owe a debt of gratitude. There are a lot of ways to do that. When in doubt, recite the General Thanksgiving daily (p. 101 in the Prayer Book).
- Trust: an ability to live in the confidence that all will be well, that in the end all will be okay and if it’s not okay it’s not the end.
- Confession: Admit the pain of waiting is tough. If you need language for that, God gave us the psalms.
- Service: Why do we call a server in a restaurant a waiter?I’m not sure where that comes from but to me one of the ways to navigate my own impatience is to consider opportunities to be of help to someone, to be of service. Those opportunities surround us.
- Prayer: The discipline of waiting, the virtue of patience may only be realized with God’s help. Fruits of the Spirit, not fruits of my own spiritual evolution or magnificence. The confession that the anxiety is getting to us, that we’re not sure how to manage it, can open the door to deeper patience.
Waiting can be hard. We all have to do it. Thank God for God’s help, claiming the wisdom of Isaiah who promised that those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:13) Phew.
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