Work the Wait

How I make the most of God's delays

When will I get my turn to hang a white dress in my closet?" I mumbled as I hung up my fourth bridesmaid dress last summer. A single 29-year-old, I'd watched friend after friend join the ranks of "Mrs."; I couldn't help but wonder, How much longer, God?

As I contemplated my life's many delays, I realized I don't like waiting—and I'm not very good at it. But I wanted to grow during my waiting seasons rather than become bitter or lose faith. So I asked God to show me how he's working through these divine delays.

Reminders of Redemption

Sometimes, a wait seems to have no apparent reason. The delay is simply the product of a sin–ravaged world.

My friend Tiffanie, after finishing grad school, spent months searching for a job. As leads failed to pan out into paychecks, she became discouraged.

Yet, much to my admiration, Tiffanie refused to anesthetize the waiting ache. For three months, she fasted from TV because she believed God had "given me the time (whether I asked for it or not) to reflect on what I have and where I'm headed."

Strangely, it's in the bleakest waiting moments that God's intervention manifests itself
most clearly.

Throughout those agonizing months, God showed up in ways more profound than a job offer. She was looking for a way to support herself; God taught her a new level of dependence on him. She was desperately waiting for a potential employer's phone call; instead, God spoke into her soul's quiet places. She was searching for a genie–god to provide instantly for her needs; God blew her away by revealing he's much better and bigger than she'd ever dreamed.

Eventually, Tiffanie landed a job, and she was grateful for the answered prayer. But she was even more grateful to learn God meets us through the waiting journey in ways beyond those originally asked or imagined. And he lovingly reminds us he can redeem any situation.

The Timing of Trust

Strangely, it's in the bleakest waiting moments that God's intervention manifests itself most clearly. Sometimes, those miracles are glamorous. We receive the perfect job, the physical healing, the necessary funds—and the wait is over.

But other times, God does the miracle in us.

Not long ago, as I was sitting down to dinner with my parents, they received a phone call from a hospital: "Your son's been in an accident … . Can't give details … . Come as soon as you can … ." In a trance, I stumbled to the car with my parents and sister. Those two hours on the way to the hospital were the longest of my life. I wish my immediate reaction had been peace, communion with God, or some other super–spiritual phenomenon. But the feeling in my gut was more like numbness and nausea. My mind churned with questions: Is he going to survive? Will he walk again? Waiting for details unknown and out of my control was terrifying.

Somewhere between my parents' home and the hospital, however, a remarkable thing happened. Ever so subtly in that night's uncertainty, the Holy Spirit crept into my personal waiting room. I was still terrified. But underneath that layer of fear, I found myself standing on an infinitely solid truth, one no car accident could steal. I didn't know what we'd find when we arrived at the hospital. But I knew whatever it was, God would still be God.

My circumstances hadn't changed. Yet in the midst of waiting, I'd learned a new kind of trust. And this learning, in itself, was almost like a miracle.

Thankfully, my brother walked out of the hospital a week later with merely a row of stitches above one eye and a scar over his left lung. I walked away with a fresh perspective on what it means to trust God without knowing the outcome. Waiting seasons are still painful. But deep within me, God is at work, assuring me he won't waste my heartaches. That even if he doesn't make my situations better, he'll somehow make me better through them.

A Compassionate Presence

Often a wait seems long when life doesn't unfold according to our agendas. But sometimes God has amazing reasons for a delay.

I learned that great lesson about waiting from the story of Lazarus's resurrection (John 11). Jesus was good friends with Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary. Christ even crashed at their place occasionally. So surely when he heard Lazarus was ill, he'd rush to his side and heal him! Instead, we read this haunting sentence: "Although Jesus loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days" (verses 5–6). My knee–jerk reaction is to cry, "Hello! Why were you waiting? That's not love!" Martha and Mary were slightly more diplomatic, but they expressed the same sentiment: "Lord, if only you had been here" (verses 21 and 32).

With our limited vision, Mary, Martha, and I couldn't see God sometimes doesn't give us what we request so he can give us something better. Jesus said the death of Lazarus "happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory for this" (verse 4). Granted, a healing would have been amazing. But Jesus had a bigger plan that couldn't occur without Lazarus's time in the grave.

While waiting for this plan to unfold, Mary and Martha must have taken comfort in one small action of Jesus. It would have been easy to miss, since it fell somewhere between their initial grief and Jesus' most astounding miracle. The moment is easy for us to overlook too, since it's recorded in the Bible's shortest verse: "Jesus wept" (verse 35). He hurt because he saw Mary and Martha's pain.

He doesn't orchestrate broken bodies and hearts as some sort of spiritual boot camp, while he stands aloof shouting orders. He doesn't insist we get over our waiting ache. Rather, he aches and walks with us to help us navigate our fractured world.

The flesh–and–blood God, who shed real tears, was with Mary and Martha. And when we feel alone in our wait, he promises the same: "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5).

I'd still like a white dress to hang in my closet someday—preferably someday soon. But now as I wait, I'm careful not merely to mark time, so preoccupied with what's next that I miss out on what's now. I'm striving to wait well. And part of waiting well, I've learned, is being open to God's lessons about redemption, trust, compassion, and his higher purposes along the way.

Until I see God face–to–face, I'll always wait for something. Or rather, Someone. And as I long for earthly things, I'll allow them to point me to the deepest longing in my soul. He's the One I await.

Stephanie Voiland, an editor and TCW regular contributor, lives in Illinois.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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