How to Live in the Waiting
by Heather Thompson Day
I believe God is still in the business of answering our single prayers, but if you would be willing to wait, maybe he is trying to do so much more than that.
This concept is particularly important to me because I feel like I have lived it. I know what it feels like to wait. I know what it feels like to believe so deeply that God is going to move in your life only to sit in a waiting room. I know the ache that comes with hope that literally hurts your shoulders to keep carrying. I know this space is hard. I know what it feels like to eat ramen for days, and have breakfast for dinner, not because you like breakfast food, but because pancake mix is cheap.
I know what it feels like to sit in an interview and feel like you really put your best foot forward only to wait for a call that never comes. I know what it feels like to tell people God is going to do something and then tell them you were wrong. I know what it feels like to watch a family member who you love more than anything get sick, and suddenly the love that is supposed to go on forever becomes terminal.
I don’t ever want to dismiss how painful this life can be. I have cried so hard I couldn’t breathe. I have wanted to run away from myself. I have felt such deep shame that I’ve fallen to my living room floor and honestly thought my heart would stop beating. I think a problem with Christian culture is the temptation to tell people to put ribbons on their grief because “God is so good.” And yet it is God himself who says in Micah 1:8 (NKJV), “Therefore I will wail and howl, I will go stripped and naked; I will make a wailing like the jackals.” What if even our grief is godly? What if it’s okay to be devastated about our country? What if we are allowed to wail about what is happening in so many of our churches? What if we were to allow ourselves to table the upside, for just a moment, to strip ourselves naked and beat our chests in the streets? In fact, what if that is the piece we are missing?
Patience and waiting are easier when it comes to jobs and advancement, but I recognize some of us are waiting on far more intimate moments. My mother-in-law, Nicole, lost her nineteen-year-old son to cancer. As a mother myself, that kind of heartache is probably my greatest fear. And when I ask her, “How do you survive something like that?” she says, “In a way you can’t understand until it’s happening to you.”
Nicole tells me she can’t explain the way God surrounded her during her son Tyler’s final days. She knew grief, she knew heartbreak, she knew desperate prayers and hopes of bartering with God, but somehow, in the pit of that lion’s den, she also knew peace.
“As Tyler died,” she says, “I felt the physical presence of God. I can’t explain it. But it was unlike anything I’ve ever known.” And I believe her. Not because she is my mother-in-law, but because the look in her eyes isn’t just devastation at what she has lost, it’s also hope in what she has found.
“Heaven is not a distant place for me,” she says. “Heaven has a face, and it has a name. Heaven is Tyler.”
The last thing Tyler said to my husband seemed like odd language for a nineteen-year-old boy to even say. “Brother,” he said, reaching for Seth, “at all costs, you have to be there.”
Tyler’s death has had a lot of cost. Seth felt like it defined who he was for years. He was seventeen years old when Tyler died, and that type of trauma changes everything. There have been days my husband hated God and days he hid from him. But Tyler’s words have always sat in the back of his mind: “Brother, at all costs, you have to be there.”
Tyler knew what I think the rest of us have struggled to believe: whatever God doesn’t make right in this life, he will make new in the next one. There is a bigger and better wait than whatever singular prayer we are waiting for right now. And whatever dreams I am waiting on, while important, become quite small when I look at Nicole. I can’t fathom her wait.
Sometimes I’ll ask my grandma to move to Denver with me. She always says no. “I lived with your grandpa in this house,” she nods. My grandpa died over seven years ago. But she would rather sit where he once sat than go to a room he never stood in. She wants to wait for him there. When I picture my eighty-nine-year-old grandma sitting in an empty house, talking out loud, it brings me to tears. Heaven won’t just be the climax of all our earthly dreams, it will be the filling of every empty room, and all these years we waited will fade into that reunion.
Philippians 4:7 says, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I think that’s what Nicole tries to tell me about. A peace that physically guarded her, that transcended all understanding. I don’t know how painful your waiting room is, but I know it can take everything you have just to try and stand up again. But you must, when you are ready, try to stand up again.
Because, at all costs, you have to be there.
Adapted from It’s Not Your Turn by Heather Thompson Day. Copyright (c) 2021 by Heather Thompson Day. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
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