Waiting. Is. Hard. We’ve been waiting for a return of some of our freedoms for months now (perhaps it seems like years to some of us!). We wait for the right job opportunity, the right man/woman, a healthy pregnancy, the right house, answers to questions, an illness to pass, to feel like our lives have meaning.
The waiting can feel endless, dark, lonely, and meaningless. Time slows, especially when facing uncertainty, or in my case when biology continues to creep up and remind me that my time available to have a baby is quickly diminishing. Those who have been unemployed or furloughed during this pandemic are facing uncertainty much greater than I can imagine, with dwindling or non-existent bank accounts, seemingly impossible choices, and no way to anticipate what the next day will bring. We are all waiting for a return to “normalcy,” and yet that will be a new normal that we do not have a grasp on yet.
Why do we wait for these things? What is the point in waiting? Why can’t we have the answers now so that we can move forward? It becomes easy to lament these periods of time, whether they last days, week, months, years or even decades. It is isolating to look at the lives of others perhaps accomplishing the goals we have set for ourselves. As an older single woman, I struggled for a long time going to weddings of friends. I found it hard to have joy for them when I wanted so badly to experience that joy for myself. I found it a quick and easy detour to view these wonderful life events as a reflection on my own lack of husband, or baby, or new home, and I studied the “lack of” in my life. I dwelled on it and resented it.
Well, as it turns out, we have a few examples of folks throughout our history who endured years of waiting. My mom used to watch a famous evangelical speaker named Joyce Meyer. I remember her playing the VHS in our living room of the talk Joyce gave on “The Silent Years.” When we read these stories and actually listen as we read, we witness that even Jesus, the savior of the world, had a period of 18 years before He began His public ministry. What did He do from age 12 through age 30? We don’t know! We presume he quietly worked with His father doing carpentry, preparing to fulfill the will of His Father and change the course of our fall from grace.
What did Joseph do while imprisoned for 14 years? He interpreted dreams, but he waited as He was being prepared for a massive purpose. Jacob worked in the fields for Jethro in order to pay off a debt for marrying Rachel in addition to marrying Leah. David worked as a shepherd before being anointed King. Job had every possession, and even his family, stripped away and lamented his life, before learning the goodness of God even in the midst of such horrible misery. Sarah was of greatly advanced age when she conceived her baby. Esther underwent a year of preparation before even being presented to the king for his approval. She entered into marriage, not knowing she would be responsible for saving the Jews.
There are countless examples. Moses. Ruth. Hannah. Samuel. John the Baptist. Abraham. The apostles.
So why do we wait? Why don’t our wishes and desires come quickly to pass? Why are there these periods of quiet, where we feel as if our purpose and vocation is “on hold” or even unreachable?
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then, gradually, without knowing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”Rainer Maria Rilke
After I suffered a herniated disc in April of 2014, I was immobile. I had to leave my job as a pediatric hospice nurse and lay in bed or sit at home, barely able to walk downstairs, let alone drive a car. I was in excruciating pain and moved into a one-story apartment with the short-term disability I was receiving from work. That disability payment ended in July when my manager told me she could no longer hold my job for, me but I would remain listed as an employee for the next nine months (which meant I got to keep my insurance). I then became weaker and weaker and debilitated, and in August was hospitalized and diagnosed with endocarditis. This now meant I had to have open-heart surgery and was too ill to consider returning to work anytime in the near future. I was applying for long-term disability, and my entire nursing career was disappearing before my eyes. I moved home to be with my parents at the age of 38. I was embarrassed and felt hopeless. At this point, it had been six months of being sick, with no end in sight. I could not work, volunteer, and even getting out of bed was exhausting. I had to sit with myself and learn that I could not predict the next minute’s developments. The purpose I knew was gone.
After surgery, I continued with the therapy I had started in Minnesota. I slowly began to learn that I had time to thoroughly examine my heart and the layers of inflammation that had built up inside me. The seemingly endless days of wondering and waiting, moving forward inches at a time, were spent in self-examination, allowing for the delicate repair of the wounding and doubts and lies that had obscured the beauty within me. At one of my appointments, my doctor, a fellow Catholic, advised me as I shared my challenges with her: “Perhaps all of this was to prepare you for your real purpose. Everything you have endured for the last decades of your life has come to this culmination, and now you are being gleaned and pruned for what God truly has for you.” Now, it is easy to then ask, “Well then what the heck were the last 38 years for?!” But the better question is to sit in meditation, looking through the experiences we have had that have brought us to the moment we are in. Instead of brushing them off as unimportant or irrelevant, to observe how they have formed us and prepared us for what is next.
I am immensely grateful for the fourteen months of removal from “public ministry” that I had. I was honed and healed and repaired and rebuilt, to approach my life and my vocation with the freshness and joy of my worth. I was given new perspective and found a healthy depth within myself from which to honor the moments I receive. I am even more grateful that every experience I have had, from childhood to now, is not wasted. These are a chance to look at how I have been formed and molded, in good and bad circumstances, to continue my life in the way that demonstrates love and charity for this world. We wait for a fulfillment that we will not achieve this side of eternity, and some of us may not know a definitive, palpable purpose while we live. But this waiting gives us ample opportunity to seek the depth and knowledge of ourselves as beings created in the image of the God who loves us, to see ourselves the way He does. We can live the depth of each day, not just the length of it, and trust that in each moment of the wait, there is grace that is ministering to us and to those around us in ways we cannot fathom.