All waiting is not created equal. This I know for sure.
In one way or another we are all waiting for something right now. We go to work and the grocery store, have casual conversations about summer plans and the unseasonable weather. But on the inside, we sit alone in our waiting rooms, always with an eye toward that door that keeps not opening.
It will never make a headline, but with so many of us here it feels important to talk about.
I’ll attempt to put words on the movement that happens within us while we’re busy doing other things. I can’t help it. I’m compelled. So here we go again.
The Kind of Waiting We Talk About
Each morning, we wake to the sound of waves hitting the beach. The kids won’t wake up for hours so we grab coffee and fold up chairs we brought from home, walk down to the shore and face east.
The waiting here is easy. We know that sun will rise.
What a luxury to wait for something to happen that you know will happen. We learned this in kindergarten – to wait in line, wait your turn, wait for Christmas – all those things had the end built in. We understood the exchange. We will have patience, and then we will get our reward in time.
There is growth in this kind of waiting, to be sure. It takes maturity that we aren’t born with to learn to wait for results, outcomes, and the passing of time.
So we make paper chains to count down the days, watch the dough rise through the oven door, set our clocks to wake for when morning finally comes.
This waiting is a function of time and time will always pass.
Still, just because you know the wait will come to an end doesn’t make it easy.
The Kind of Waiting That Sneaks Up On You
Sometimes you don’t realize you’re waiting until you’re almost through it. I would say this is a good thing, except the unawareness of the waiting can often manifest itself in strange ways: irritability, restlessness, or indecision to name a few.
Ask me how I know.
My entire year of 39 I was waiting to turn 40. I didn’t realize it until just before my birthday, but the anxiety, the questions, the second-guessing, the strange new fears — once my birthday passed all of that went with it.
Oh, I realized. I have been holding my breath.
The Kind of Waiting We Don’t Talk About
But what about waiting for results when results aren’t guaranteed?
This is the kind that can break your heart because it doesn’t come with arrows or endpoints.
This kind of waiting is a perpetual bachelor. He shows up in your life a mysterious stranger, giving hints and hopes about the future but never making any promises.
This may or may not be. You’ll just have to wait and see.
The kind of waiting that’s easy to talk about is the kind we can measure in time. And while it’s true we can’t control time or make it tick by faster, at least it has a track record. It will pass.
Some waiting leads only to more waiting. Or worse, builds up then fizzles out.
And this doesn’t mean we aren’t moving. It does mean we may be waiting for something and moving toward something that may never come to be, even while we hope.
On the one hand, this feels like terrible news.
But there is another hand.
The Kind of Wait That Needs to Stop
Once the sun comes up, we make our way back to the beach house, refill our mugs, settle in on the porch and face the waves again, this time from a distance.
The pine trees offer shade from the sun, rising higher in the sky as we read. A squirrel scurries up the skinny trunk in front of us, takes aim at a branch on a nearby tree, flings himself through the air, nearly missing. He lands without falling but not without fanfare.
But the next morning, we see another squirrel do this same routine: climb the skinny trunk, aim toward the branch, fly, nearly miss, catch and continue on with his climb.
It occurs to me that this is either the same squirrel or it’s what they all do in that one spot.
What looks to me like a near miss is actually routine. What seems to be a miscalculation is a regular part of the plan.
Progress looked sloppy and not well-thought out. But it didn’t have to be because that squirrel made that jump every single day.
Maybe that sloppy jump was not a poor decision. Maybe it was the only way across.
For the past two years I’ve been waiting, the kind where you don’t have any guarantees that what you’re waiting for will actually happen.
As much as I could, I cleared the decks. Said no to a lot. Gave myself space to listen for good timing and just rights. I took some deep breaths. I’ve tried to do only the essential.
I entered into this waiting season willingly, anticipating long walks, silent space, listening, and deepening. The deepening has happened to be sure, but not in the ways I expected.
Though I wanted it, this liminal space did not come to me gently. I scheduled the stillness and proceeded to fidget and twitch my way through it. I invited the silence and then interrogated her when she showed up on my doorstep. Why are you here? Why aren’t you saying anything?!
While I’ve cut out a lot of activity, I’m discovering the words of Leighton Ford to be true, that the secret to living in a busy world “is not at the circumference (merely reducing our activities) but at the center (refocusing our heart).”
The particular season of waiting I have been in is coming to a close, I can feel it. In the past few months, I’ve made decisions, turned away from closed doors, taken steps and discerned plans. Here in the middle of a quiet, mostly still summer month, I anticipate the months to come and see they will be different.
There will be new challenges, both creatively and personally.
There will be new partnerships which is not something I enter into naturally or without fear, but am excited for all the same.
Once again, results are not guaranteed.
I want my leaps to be thoughtful, measured, well-planned. Sometimes that works out, but if I wait for that as the only way to move, I may be waiting past my queue.
Sometimes when I think I’m waiting on God, it turns out he’s waiting on me.
Waiting as a Way of Life
As we move through our seasons of waiting, is it possible to learn to wait well?
John’s grandmother (we call her Budder) turned 104 a few weeks ago. I’ve written of her before, way back when she turned 100 (you can read 100 Years of Budder right here).
We traveled to Memphis to spend some time with her last week and for a few minutes on the fourth of July, John asked her a handful of questions and the conversation gently led back to the Lord. It always does with Budder.
We didn’t ask her about waiting, didn’t lead the question. But evidently it’s something she thinks about a lot on her own. As we talked, she said this:
“Everyday I get such a pleasure and a strengthening from a little verse that says, His steps are with you. What I’m trying to make myself do is remember that little verse that says, Wait on the Lord.”
I shared some of this conversation we had with Budder on Instagram and I received more messages from this short series of videos than I’ve ever received when I’ve shared stories on Instagram.
Listen, I’m talking hundreds of messages from you, responding to her words. I’ve since wondered about why it resonated with so many of us.
She’s adorable, quick-witted and remarkably present for 104. She drives, lives by herself, goes to Wal-Mart, teaches 1st graders Sunday school. She is kind of a miracle. Or a unicorn. Or both.
Her husband died of a stroke when he was only 54, leaving her to parent their four boys alone. Budder never remarried, living on her own for the next 55 years. The sorrow she has she carries in secret and if she ever held grudges, she released them decades ago.
I look at her life, a woman who has buried both a husband and a son, lived through two World Wars, seen the election of 18 presidents with all of their triumphs and scandals.
She has lived long and she has lived faithful.
I think that’s what you saw in her. Yes, it’s her personality, her southern accent, and her humor. But mostly, it’s her faith.
We are a generation of tired people, longing to see evidence that what we wait for in secret is worth it.
We believe and want help in our unbelief.
Our souls make quiet work of always scanning for truth. When we find it, the tears spill over and take us by surprise.
What All Waiting Has in Common
Down the road from Budder’s is a house that over 20 million people have visited since it opened to the public: Graceland, the Memphis home of Elvis Presley.
I could tell you about the mirrored staircase, the peacock stained glass in the living room, the oddly delightful jungle room, the spotless 1970s kitchen, but with over 20 million people visiting this house, chances are you’ve seen all that yourself or at least heard about it.
What struck me while walking through the house where Elvis lived is, how in spite of all his achievements, awards, money, accolades, and success, he still died in his upstairs bathroom: young, sick, exhausted, and divorced.
Budder was born twenty-two years before Elvis and has lived forty years passed his death and keeps on going. His whole life fits inside hers, two and a half times.
But when you put aside the legend and pull back the tasseled curtain of the American dream, you’ll see a man who wanted what we all want: to be loved, to be secure, and to belong.
No one is immune. Just some of us have more money, talent, and creative ways of getting what we most deeply long for.
A few miles away from Graceland, Budder sits alone in her house, praying for her family members each night by name. Hers is a life of waiting. For what, I don’t presume to know. But I do know she thinks about it. I also know she brings her waiting into the presence of the Lord.
“And then the one this morning, said the Lord shall take you step by step and supply all your needs. That’s the first thing I do when I wake up. I turn the little light on and read that verse.”
As she spoke, she looked off into the distance. Then she drew one of her hands up toward her face and smiled. Like a little girl. A 104 year old girl.
To live is to wait. We wait for things we know will happen, things we hope will come to be. We wait until the right time and sometimes we don’t realize we’re waiting at all.
Scripture doesn’t say so much about waiting for particular things, outcomes, or circumstances. Instead, we get this:
“The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
And He delights in his way.
24 When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong,
Because the Lord is the One who holds his hand.
25 I have been young and now I am old,
Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
Or his descendants begging bread.
26 All day long he is gracious and lends,
And his descendants are a blessing.”
Psalm 37:23- 26
And also this:
“Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage. Yes, wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:14
Of course our Father would shift our eyes from a plan we hope for to a Person we can hope in.
Isn’t that what he always does?
Here’s what I know: Whatever I put at the center of the wait is what carries all the power. I can’t say that I fully understand what it means to wait upon the Lord but if scripture invites me into it, well then there must be hope in that.
So here’s to you who wait for the measureable things – the birth, the graduation, the answer, the arrival of a friend. Take heart, it will not be like this forever.
To you who continue to wait for things unmeasured, for the healing you’re not sure will come or the love you’re not sure you’ll find. May you find comfort in the presence of our friend Jesus even though you may not have the answers you are looking for.
Do you feel disoriented, discouraged, or unsure but don’t know why? Take a moment to consider if you might be waiting for something you’ve yet to acknowledge. Perhaps just the admission will bring the slightest lift.
Maybe like me you have welcomed a season of listening, of quiet deepening and slow moving. But in some area or another, you wonder if it might be time to move. May you have the courage to take the next right step, no matter how sloppy or unsure.