The dust, fine and red, coated the plants lining our roads. Sweat beaded on my upper lip. As my children lay awake in bed, I stuck my head in and reminded them to keep guzzling plenty of water, after a friend of theirs landed in the clinic due to dehydration.
Unfortunately it paralleled my parched insides. So many tasks to which I put my hand seemed to droop, languishing and limp. The cost-benefit ratio of my parenting, my ministry there in Uganda, and a handful of relationships seemed tilting precariously in the wrong direction.
It’s funny how perceived failure–and waiting–stirs up silty questions that had lain quiet in the soul.
What am I doing here? Why am I doing this? Does any of what I do matter?
A friend had mentioned that week how, when we trust God in the dark, it’s amazing how so many things begin to happen.
I was thinking, What about the times when you trust big, and nothing big happens? What about when everything feels sluggish, fruitless, and cracked?
Am I the only one who feels like waiting has been a recurring lesson of adulthood? Indeed, to prep for this post, I searched “waiting” on my personal blog–and found 8 pages of posts.
Sometimes army-crawling through my own seasons of advent (Christmastime or not) feel like one of God’s favorite scalpels. It lies ominously–no, lovingly! I tell myself– next to the one labeled “suffering.”
I was embarrassingly late into adulthood by the time the word “advent” revealed itself for what it was, i.e. not the name of the month before Christmas, where we have to wait a whole 25 days.
It’s this word that remembers the waiting, the inevitable coming true–to the tune of millennia, generations upon generations “that mourn[ed] in lonely exile here.”
When Your Season Feels Off
Maybe, looking at where you hoped to be, everything seems…off. That promises or hope, if advent were real at all, would be fulfilled by now.
To get married. Or be able to start filling applications rather than taking care of aging parents or changing diapers. To be done raising financial support. Or go overseas when the borders open. To have ministry that feels like it’s worth the career and family and comfort and validation you’ve given up.
Maybe it feels like you’re on the wrong side of a three-legged race. Something’s dragging. You’re lurching. Everyone else seems to fluidly gallop ahead, while you’re stuck with a mouthful of turf.
This is not the life I pictured.
How Waiting Changes Us
I have become a different woman as God changes me in the muscular, faith-filled waiting: for the months-long process of appealing our denied work visa. To go overseas, when the man I married wasn’t feeling led that direction. For a child making decisions that seized my heart with fear. For God to restore a sense of purpose after we returned from Africa.
In those times, it has felt easier to do anything, really, rather than be still, my soul; bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
I think of Abraham, waiting twenty years after God’s promise for a son. He even tried to rush it a bit. So I must include one of my favorite truisms a la Peter Scazzero:
I, like Abraham, had birthed many ‘Ishmaels’ in my attempt to help God’s plan move forward more efficiently.
Who will I become in the waiting?
French activist and philosopher Simone Weil’s wrote on some of the ways affliction–and, I would offer, waiting–changes us. It’s our decision how we respond to these wearying side effects of waiting.
- Isolation. “No one understands this. I can’t turn to anyone.”
- “Implosion”. This looks like self-absorption as we seek to stop the pain.
- Hopelessness/condemnation. Weil writes, “Affliction hardens and discourages us because, like a red hot iron it stamps the soul to its very depth with the scorn, disgust, even the self-hatred and sense of guilt and defilement that crime logically should produce but actually does not.”
- Anger, directed at various targets.
- Temptation. Pastor and author Timothy Keller notes, “We become complicit with the affliction, comfortable with ours discomfort, content with our discontent…It can make you feel noble, and the self-pity can be sweet and addicting.”*
Redefining Faithfulness and Success
And two friends reminded me gently during those hot, heavy months on my soul and body–my own mini-advent–What if we redefine success to mean “faithfulness”? Sure, God wants us to get excited about results, too. Purpose is part of his perfect design.
But don’t forget the “fruit”, in His eyes, starts long before what we see.
You will arrive at precisely the time God has ordained–for the good works he’s created for you to do: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
God has “determined allotted periods and the boundaries of [every person’s] dwelling place”. If your Plan A has gone unfulfilled, that fulfillment would actually go against God’s design. Over 100 verses speak of his precise timing.
Could this waiting be a form of God’s mercy? Is someone being primed for the perfect opportunity to receive the Gospel? Are you being protected or perfectly prepared?
Verses to Hold On To in your personal advent
With this in mind, we’ve got a download of the four verse graphics in this post–printable here–for memorization and meditation in this season of Advent, of waiting.
One morning, I stirred in the early hours to a rushing sound outside of my flung-open windows; a deep rumbling had brought at least one child toting pillows and blankets to the floor around our bed.
And yes! Pouring rain grayed the sunrise sluicing down the sidewalk. I pulled the sheets taut around my shoulders.
The next day, I addressed my new class of refugees. Somewhere, amidst the raised hands and laughter, I thought, I can’t believe I get to do this job. I felt the term’s potential ripening in my hands, sweet and red.
I don’t know what you’re waiting for this Christmas. I’ve got a feeling it’s for something more weighty than hooves on a rooftop. But let me assure you: Those who wait on him aren’t ever–ever–put to shame.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
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Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and senior editor for Go. Serve. Love. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International.
Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write on Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House) releases October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.
As cited in Keller, Timothy. Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. New York: Penguin Books (2013). Kindle edition.