As I was talking with a dear friend recently, I noticed a pattern in our lives: we’re both in a time of painful, lonely, discouraging, wilderness-like waiting. Waiting to actually like our lives. Waiting for the men we love to come back to us. Waiting for some hope while clinging to Jesus, our life preserver on this dark and endless sea. Is it too much to ask for something good to happen? Is it too much to ask to finally get some relief here?
I swore I’d never be like Bella Swan from Twilight, but this scene from the movie New Moon essentially captures my year in a nut shell. I, too, would wake up sobbing from nightmares that the man I love was never coming home. One in particular portrayed him moving to a volatile Middle Eastern country to become a martyr. I was unhinged.
Now that my year of waiting is over (it ends today, praise God), I wanted to look back and share with you what I learned from my year spent in the spiritual wilderness.
The truth is, waiting on God really hurts. I was waiting for Him to not only bring meaning back into my empty-feeling life, but also to restore the joy I once felt when I was surrounded by loved ones, connected to the man I desire, and doing that which I love: evangelization & missions. All of these have been lacking if not nonexistent since leaving the mission field. It also has a lot to do with the fact that I’m still grieving over the death of my beloved grandparents. My grandma was my childhood best friend and the person who got me writing. I am who I am because of her.
So here I am, always crying out to God like the Israelites in the desert, “Why did you bring me here to die?” (Exodus 14:11) Because that’s how I’ve felt for months: like I’m lost, abandoned, and left for dead by God. Like all the joy I was allowed to experience has run out, and that’s all I’m allowed to get in this life. No more joy for you, missy. You’ve had your fill.
But God is working. How do I know? Because of the theology class I took when I was at college.
God brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, leading them towards the Promised Land. But before they could reach it, they had to cross the desert. While studying the Israelites’ 40-year travels through the desert to the Promised Land, I learned that God uses waiting for our good.
The Israelites in the desert were getting restless. God hadn’t brought them to this “land of milk and honey” yet, and the journey was starting to feel endless and futile. Doubts recurred as they spent each day plodding through the infinite wasteland. Day after day, they seemed no closer to the goal. They cried out in their misery, “Why did you bring us here to die?”
So, why didn’t God simply poof them from Egypt to the Promised Land? Because they weren’t ready for it. They still needed to be trained in His law of love. And God knew the only way to prepare them for the things ahead was through this period before they got there – this period of waiting. Waiting is the time God uses to mold us, train us, prepare us, and transform us for whatever is to come. The Israelites had just left Egypt and were still getting to know this God so unlike the fickle, unfeeling Egyptian gods. They had Egyptian customs, culture, and morality ingrained in them. God needed time to teach them His way. The desert was the perfect place to do that – which is why He chose such a place to give them His Law & Commandments.
Not only is the desert – this time of waiting – a perfect place to be trained for whatever is to come, it’s a practice of endurance. Our whole lives we will have to keep going, come hell or high water. Every day we face discouragements, tragedies that make us want to quit or give up. Waiting on God is like training for a marathon. Each day you run a little farther, teaching yourself not to give in to the leg cramps or the burning in your chest that scream at you to stop. Our lives are that marathon. We are called to run to God with everything we’ve got, never giving up even when we stumble and fall. We fix our eyes on the goal that is Heaven, keep running through this desert towards the Promised Land.
Let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before Him He endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God. Consider how He endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.
You have also forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons:
“My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by Him; for whom the Lord loves, He disciplines; He scourges every son He acknowledges.”
Endure your trials as “discipline”; God treats you as sons. For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline? He does so for our benefit, in order that we may share His holiness. At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.
So strengthen your drooping hands and weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed.” (Hebrews 12:1-7, 10-12)
This isn’t a dayhike, guys. This is a struggle to the summit – and the struggle is worth it, because the end goal is where you get the best views. (I’m a backpacker, so I’ll use this endurance sport as an analogy). When you first set out on the trail, you can’t always see the good that’s up ahead. Often you want to stop or turn back when the trail seems too hard to tread. Your body aches, your feet are sore, you’ve got blisters everywhere. It’s painful. But I don’t hike the trails for the sheer joy of lugging around a pack half my weight. No, I do it because the scenery and the views are second to none, and I couldn’t get them anywhere else besides that particular trail. So keep running this race, keep pressing on towards the goal, and know that this time of waiting is sharpening you and transforming you. The end goal is so worth the pain & struggle you’re encountering now.
Forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)
It’s clear that God doesn’t call us to just sit around like Rapunzel, singing “When will my life begin?” He wants us to be actively pursuing Him, moving forward, allowing Him to guide our steps, listening for His direction. He wants us to be active participators in our training, seeking out moments each day in which we can grow or practice endurance. So, what are some concrete ways that you can be an active waiter?
- Take it to prayer: ask God what He is training you in. What virtue is He seeking to build up in you?
- Seek ways in which you can develop that virtue. Start actively participating in this transformative process! If it’s humility, seek opportunities to be humble. If it’s purity, rid your life of sin and realign it with what is good, pure, and sanctifying.
- Throw yourself wholeheartedly in the direction you feel God is calling you. Ex: Have you always felt called to youth ministry, or at least just wanted to dip your toe in it, but never have? This time of waiting is your time: dive in. Don’t worry about it being the wrong direction or against God’s will. If you are chasing after Him, He will align your paths and direct your footsteps. Whatever you feel you want to try doing, GO FOR IT.
- Foster the relationships you have around you. Before you can pursue future relationships, you should probably master loving the people in your immediate sphere. Focus on loving them well and caring for them. This will prepare you for other future relationships.
- Keep on praising the Lord, and be thankful for what you do have. You may not yet have what you ultimately want, but train yourself in gratitude now.
- Get involved. Join a church group, do some volunteer work, teach Sunday School, go on a mission trip, do a Bible study – anything to serve others and build community. This will keep you active in the faith and train your heart for whatever God is calling you to.
- Pray for God’s will to be done, for surrender/detachment from your own desires, and yes, even petition on behalf of what you want. Be open to whatever circumstance God may bring you to. (There’s nothing worse than being too dead set on what you want, and then not getting it. Trust me on this one.) Then finish up by praying for peace, whatever the outcome might be.
- Pursue the Lord with everything you’ve got. Nothing held back. Chase after Him alone, and perhaps what you desire shall fall into place when you do. Or if not, know that God has something much better in mind for you.
- Bonus: actually take up an endurance sport & get practicing. Nothing teaches you more about active waiting than actively training for a marathon or a mountain climb. It’s a physical representation of a spiritual reality.
Recommended songs: While I’m Waiting by John Waller; Relentless Pursuit by Kim Walker-Smith; I Shall Not Want by Audrey Assad; Pursue/All I Need is You by Hillsong Worship
What are you waiting for right now? Comment & let me know.