Have you ever found yourself waiting for something much longer than you expected? Fingers tapping, breath constricting, heart rate steadily increasing as you watch your expectations crumble like a falling city into the abyss passing of time? Did I just reveal how dramatic my inner thoughts can be?
Waiting is a common, human experience. Maybe it was a matter of an extra ten long minutes waiting for a test result. Or maybe it has been many long years of waiting for an answered prayer for healing or restoration.
I don’t know about you, but waiting does not come naturally to me at all. I once read somewhere that people are far more willing to join a longer line that is constantly moving rather than a shorter one that seems to be standing still. Disneyland understands this concept perfectly. Though the lines may snake the equivalent of a mile, guests don’t usually seem to mind as long as they do not find themselves stagnant.
I’m with them! I love progress. I like to feel that I have some level of control. And I find that I naturally avoid the kind of waiting that requires I be still. Whether this is human nature or a Western cultural phenomenon, my aversion to waiting is deeply ingrained, so much so that I think it is even fair to say that for much of my life I have believed that if I found myself waiting, I was wasting time.
But what does God’s word say to us about waiting? In a verse often quoted but seldom truly understood, God shows us a very different perspective on the value of waiting. Isaiah 40:31 records an extraordinary promise Yahweh made to His people. “But those who wait for Yahweh will renew their strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not be weary. They will walk and not faint.”
I love this verse. Who wouldn’t? Wings like eagles? Yes, please! I recited these verses in moments of trial quite often for the first couple decades of my life. But I must admit, as inspirational as the words sounded, I had no idea what they meant. Eventually, I had to admit to myself that, in spite of the lofty and encouraging assurance they offered, more often than not I was weary, wingless, and faint. What was I doing wrong?
As it turns out, as I think we often do, I was expecting the result of God’s promises without the work of obedience. His promise applies to those who “wait for Yahweh”. I don’t think I really ever had any concept of what it meant to wait on anyone until my husband left for his first deployment. I didn’t just distantly hope that he might show up again one day, I didn’t go on as usual thinking it would be nice if I saw him again. No. I spent time each day writing to him, thinking of him, imagining the day of his return. I spent accumulated hours staring at the phone, hoping to hear his voice.
In the midst of my longing God asked me a staggering and convicting question. “Do you long for the return of my Son this way? Do you seek my presence the way you seek his? If your husband returns to you, he will leave again, but my Son will return and never leave you. In whom have you placed your hope?”
In His question, He invited me into the only true cure for my soul’s loneliness and heartache – the Hope and fulfillment I find in Him alone through the redeeming work of His Son. His question brought to my understanding the temptation for life to be a relay race from one fleeting pleasure to the next in an attempt to assuage the deeper longing that only He can satisfy.
And suddenly, I sensed the joy of a reality I had glimpsed but not tasted until now; that of the watcher whose eyes search the horizon for what her heart already sees. My perception of what it is to wait began to seismically shift, from nothing to everything, from frustrating to life-giving, from wasteful to sacred.
It is difficult to fully understand the promise that God makes to His people in Isaiah 40:31 without understanding its context. In Isaiah 40, God makes an airtight case as to why He deserves their trust, even as, from their perspective, all hope seems lost. But even as they cannot see past the circumstances that surround them, God tells them their gaze is misplaced. So it has often been with me. But when I read this passage of Scripture now, ten years into parenthood, I finally see the heart of my Perfect Father.
Almost on a daily basis I find myself reassuring my children as they experience moments of worry – most often directly related to a trivial outcome they want to control, circumstances, timing, decisions. But from my vantage point I have the ability to see past these outcomes to their truer needs. Over and again I ask them to trust me. I see that they are wasting their energy on worries that were not meant to be theirs. And so it is with God. Each time I approach Him with eyes transfixed elsewhere, my heart thrown by tumultuous waves of worry, He stills the storm inside of me with His command, “Be still! And know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
And slowly I am learning that waiting is trusting. Even as the world erupts around us, as we trust Him, we can be still. And there, as He clothes us and feeds us, we find that our legs are no longer weary, perhaps even that our hearts have taken flight above the storm. We can hope and be filled with joy. We can search to know more of Him, our truest treasure, even while we yearn for what is to come. Waiting is not a state of doing nothing or killing time. It is rather His gracious redemption of the time and energy we are tempted to waste on our worries!