The Discipline of Waiting


Those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.
ISAIAH 40:31 NASB

There is one thing you will get from reading the Bible. The people of God do a lot of waiting. The first big waiting game is the story of Abraham and Sarah as they wait for the fulfillment of the promise God gave to them that they would have a son. Years of barreness sorely tested the patience of that elderly couple. Yet, God delivered on His promise. The next big waiting game is the story of Joseph and his multicolored coat. It was a long wait before God's plan was fulfilled in Joseph's life. I ponder how he must have felt in that prison wondering how he had ended up there. Then, there are the Israelites and their slavery in Egypt followed by their wandering in the desert. There is the Babylonian Captivity. Then, there is the penultimate waiting game of the messianic prophecy culminating in the advent of Jesus Christ. Finally, all Christians wait for the coming of Jesus again to set everything right and to settle the accounts. The bottom line is that if you are a Christian you need patience because you are going to do a lot of waiting.

The favorite time of the world is what we call NOW. Now demands immediate answers, immediate satisfaction, and immediate gratification. The world does not like to wait. This is known as impatience. It is why people become so angry so quickly. It explains road rage and massive credit card debt as people opt to enjoy now and pay never. The world even elevates this immediacy into a sort of virtue as anyone who hasn't done their thing in the acceptable time span is deemed a failure. For instance, we laugh at the sixty year old woman who decides to return to college to get her degree. Youth is deemed more valuable than age. Vigor and energy are better than wisdom and experience. Jam that foot on the gas pedal as hard as you can. Carpe diem! Seize the day by the cajones and MAKE SOMETHING OF YOURSELF! NOW!!


God does not seem to care about this sense of urgency and immediacy. Time for us is like the sands through the hourglass, and we feel as if it is just slipping away from us. The underlying belief behind this urgent sense is that we are going to miss something. Opportunities are slipping by never to be had again. But all of this is a doubt about God's providence. There are no missed opportunities with God. Nothing happens that God does not know about or allow to happen. Everything will happen in its proper place and time because God is in control. Whenever we lose our patience or become exasperated because things aren't happening fast enough or become anxious that we are missing our chance, we are showing that we do not believe in God. We may profess with our lips to be Christians, but we show by our actions that we are little better than atheists.


Impatience is the one extreme. Fatalism is the other extreme. This was the Stoic answer to things. Essentially, life is ruled by Fate, so you should stop caring. Fatalism is the surrender of everything not to God and His providence but to apathy. The Buddhist and Eastern traditions are similar in their cyclical view of history. Existence is a big circle put on endless repeat. Nietzsche talked about "eternal recurrence." Existence in an infinite universe eventually turns into a series of repetitions. You don't ever having to worry about missing anything because it will come around again, and nothing really changes.

The Christian view of time is linear. The world had a beginning, and it will have an end. That time line is a long one. Change does happen, but it takes longer than you think. Usually, this is just a little bit longer than our patience. For the world, there are only two times that exist. The first is called NOW. The second is called NEVER. People either want it now, or they throw up their hands and stop caring as they resign themselves to Stoic fatalism and indifference. This infantile response is produced by the fact that people do not want to wait. But it is clear from the Bible and from history that God does want us to wait. He seems to delight in it for some reason, and I think it has something to do with changing us.

Christian patience is the midpoint between these two extremes of now or never. We are not to be impatient nor fatalistic. We are to put our trust in the Lord and wait on Him. This is incredibly hard. Basically, it is to want something very much but to wait for it to happen. This goes against the grain of our human nature. Abraham and Sarah lost patience, so they concocted Plan B involving the slave woman Hagar and the son she would bear for Abraham named Ishmael. When Plan A happened just as God promised, Sarah put Plan B out the door to go die in the desert.


The lesson from this story is that Plan B will be a failure and a regret. Fortunately for Hagar and Ishmael, God took care of them and included them in His plans. But Sarah wanted to force God's hand. Waiting is for losers, and Sarah was a go-getter. In hindsight, she looks rather foolish and shabby. This is what happens when you don't wait for the Lord.

This Plan B thinking takes the same form today in heresies like liberation theology which demands Marxist revolution instead of Christian patience when it comes to aiding the poor. Misguided priests have even taken up arms to become clerical Che Guevaras, and these renegade priests have all come to disgraceful and fruitless ends. Like Sarah, they aim to force God's hand. Similarly, there are those who call for an uprising in the Catholic Church to remedy all her faults not remembering how the last uprising turned out. Revolutions have a tendency to make things worse not better. Prayer, fasting, works of mercy, and acts of penance are for losers in the thinking of these people. They forget that Martin Luther was also zealous and had a good case to make, but his heresy and errors have produced the bitter harvest we still reap today. Those people would do best to learn from St. Ignatius of Loyola who brought about the real change through his obedience and patience. We would do well to learn to be radically obedient like Ignatius.

To be a Christian is to practice the discipline of waiting. God does everything in His time and place. This waiting is not a passive waiting as we should always be diligently praying, doing works of mercy, and tending to our jobs and families. Waiting is not idleness. Similarly, we should not become impatient trying to make things happen with our Plan B schemes. The discipline of waiting requires that we patiently endure for the time being while never losing hope that God will make it all work out in the end. All good things will come to those who wait upon the Lord.