I think it’s a safe assertion that our society isn’t fond of waiting. We hate traffic, eat way too much fast food, and can ship something between any two points on the globe in 24 hours or less. If a website takes more than 2 seconds to load, we refresh the page. And if our pizza isn’t prepped, baked, and driven across town to our doorstep in under 30 minutes, it’s free (because clearly something went wrong.)
In our world, if you have to wait, something is generally BROKEN. We see waiting as unnecessary at best, and more often problematic. And it makes us feel powerless and unproductive.
But this is a very modern conception of waiting, and I believe Satan wins an important battle when we buy into it. Because when waiting means something is broken to us, we miss what it means to God, and the role it plays in our eternal progression.
The word wait comes from the same root as “watch” or “guard.” (hardly passive inactivity, right?) And some of the archaic definitions include:
- “to be in readiness to serve or execute orders”
- “to be stationary in readiness or expectation”
- and “to remain hopeful and trusting”
As a people, we believe that the course of our mortal life is critical to our development as children of an all knowing, all powerful and loving God with whom we can communicate through prayer. Sometimes, in answer to our prayers, we receive clear, specific and undeniable guidance from our Heavenly Father. The path may be challenging, but we are confident in our direction and we press forward with vision and purpose. Those times, for me, are pretty much bliss.
But, as President Hinckley said “anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to spend a lot of time running around screaming that he’s been robbed.”
Far more often in life, guidance, direction and answers to prayer come neither clearly nor quickly.
And so we wait.
- Sometimes we wait somewhere in the middle of a road we’ve been on forever, can’t really remember how we got on, and can’t see where it’s going.
- Sometimes we wait at the crossroads where the paths go off in opposite directions and we have no idea which one to choose.
- Sometimes we wait at the giant rock slide that is the dead end of a path we were pretty sure He’d set us on in the first place.
- And sometimes we wait dangling off a cliff at the end of our ropes, certain that any second we’re going to lose our grip and fall.
But as discouraging, bewildering, maddening or painful as this waiting may be, it is NOT an accident, not a mistake, not even a consequence much of the time. It does not mean God has forgotten you, that he never really loved you, or that you have done anything to lose his love or care.
Waiting is part of life, and it is part of the plan.
For evidence, we need look no further than the scriptures. Sometimes, though, I think the scriptures give us a warped sense of the timelines of our heroes’ lives. One verse presents the seemingly insurmountable problem, and in the next verse, there’s the solution! Sometimes years of waiting are encompassed in the simple phrase “and it came to pass.” But if we read carefully, we see that…
- For Abraham, it was four agonizing days, with an altar built and a knife poised at the throat of his only son before “God provided himself a lamb.”
- For Joseph Smith it was 5 months of the hell that was Liberty Jail between “Oh God, where art thou?” and “know thou, my son.”
- For Nephi and his family it was 8 years of raw meat and wandering between “take thy family and depart into the wilderness” and “thou shalt construct a ship.” (to say nothing of the rest of the journey)
- For the woman in Jerusalem, it was 12 years, dozens of doctors, and everything she owned between the start of the bleeding and “thy faith hath made thee whole.”
- And for Elizabeth and Zachariah, is was a LIFETIME of “walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blameless” between their covenant of marriage and the birth of their first and only son.
These and many other beloved and faithful men and women throughout history have been challenged, refined and ultimately blessed by learning to wait upon the Lord. Would we truly want to be exempted from that?
Preach My Gospel says “Patience [and I see “waiting upon the lord” as a synonym here] is the capacity to endure disappointment, delay, trouble, opposition or suffering without becoming angry, frustrated or anxious.”
Notice, please, that it does NOT say waiting upon the Lord means enduring all those things without FEELING anger, frustration and anxiety.
Enduring the delay of answers, direction or blessings is HARD. And it was designed to be! The scriptures promise us that “they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” Generally, things don’t need to be renewed unless they have first been depleted or run out entirely. So, you’re not doing something wrong if waiting is draining…or if it hurts. Feeling and acknowledging the pain (or anger, frustration or anxiety) of waiting is not faithless.
But if we disengage our god-given agency; if we buy in to Satan’s counterfeit and believe that this waiting means something is broken–in ourselves, in the world, or in God; if we allow our waiting to be passive and powerless, then we risk BECOMING angry, frustrated and anxious.
So how do we engage our agency as we wait upon the Lord? How do we ACT instead of being acted upon in the times when we can’t, or don’t know how to, or just feel like we aren’t moving forward?