Written by Carter Moss
“Forget me nots, and second thoughts
Live in isolation
Heads or tails, fairy tales
In my mind, come on
Are we? We are, are we? We are the waiting, unknown
The rage and love, story of my life…”
(“Are We the Waiting?”, Green Day)
How do you feel about waiting? Anybody like a nice, lonnnng wait? I’ll be honest–I hate waiting. I hate waiting at the drive thru. I hate waiting behind an accelerator-impaired person when the light turns green. I hate waiting at the post office. And don’t even mention the DMV—if there IS a purgatory, then well…
Does anyone else play that game at the checkout lines where you try to pick the shortest one? Same thing with picking lanes of traffic at a red light? And you know it’s a bad sign when you’re tired of waiting for the microwave: “Why is my meat that used to have to be hunted, killed, cleaned, and cooked all day over a fire now taking a whole minute to heat up?” We all are stuck waiting for all sorts of stuff, aren’t we? Waiting in traffic, or for the weekend to get here, or for that tax return check, or for the Cubs to finally win a World Series.
But that’s all just inconvenience/annoyance kind of stuff. The really hard part is that there are other far more serious kinds of waiting There’s the waiting of a person between jobs when the bills have been piling up for a long time. There’s the waiting of a single person to see if life has marriage in store for them. There’s the waiting to see if a relational conflict will ever get resolved. Then there’s waiting on health stuff: waiting for those test results, waiting to see if our loved one will pull through or not, waiting to see if our illness or ailment will ever go away. What about the waiting of the childless couple, month after month, having to see that same result on the pregnancy test? Tom Petty was right after all: “The waiting is…the hardest part.”
Personally, I am just coming out of a season of waiting that might be the longest and hardest I’ve ever had in my life (and I know many people who have endured much longer and harder seasons), so I figured now is as good of time as any to reflect on what I learned and to share it in case it might be helpful to others. My waiting was of the unemployment kind—the job I had done for the last nine years came to an end five months ago (not entirely my choice), and I began the long arduous process of job-searching. I knew I wanted to stay in the same career (pastoring a church), so I was focusing my job search on that. But I also knew that if the bills started surpassing my savings, I would have to take any job I could get to provide for my family. (I did start to research what a stock-boy at Menards makes, at one point.) And since I do consider myself a Christian and I want to try to seek God’s direction in my life, I also prayed fervently throughout the wait. After five long months, I did manage to land a job. Not just any job, but a job in the career I was hoping for, at a great church, and in arguably the most beautiful city–at least weather-wise–in the country (San Diego). So it is a job that was well worth the wait. And I know not everyone shares the same spiritual beliefs I do, but yes, I absolutely credit God for answering many prayers offered up by many people and for providing in this way.
Anyway, I want to share some things I learned in this season of waiting in case they might be helpful to you, whether you share my Christian beliefs or not. So take a look and see what you think. But before that, if you are in one of those tough seasons of waiting right now, just let me say this: I’m sorry. I know it’s hard. And I know that nobody else knows exactly how you feel. And I won’t offer you any trite sayings or clichés or pep talks promising it all gets easier soon. Waiting is just plain hard. There’s no way around it. So instead, I will just offer you these insights I’ve gleaned in my waiting, and I will hope and pray that they are helpful to you.
Don’t Go It Alone
The first important thing I learned is often the hardest lesson—don’t go through this season alone. There is this natural human tendency to want to pull away and suffer alone when we’re going through hard things. Maybe it’s because our pride takes too big of a hit to allow people to see us suffering. Or maybe it’s some sort of fake “selfless-ness” where we figure others have too many problems of their own to worry about so we don’t need to bother them with ours. But wherever that instinct comes from—fight it. You weren’t meant to go through tough seasons alone. Maybe you’re not used to living life in community with others, but what better time is there to start? Include some people in your struggle. Let them help you through it. It might be some family members, or close friends, or even a counselor.
I would recommend that it not be social media though. I know it can be tempting sometimes to swing the pendulum the other way and want to broadcast our suffering to the world, and start venting all over our social media outlets. But remember—the whole world doesn’t need to know all of your internal processing about things. And it’s way too easy to say stuff that you’ll regret later after you’re done with this season. Honestly, I found myself daily wanting to vent on Facebook so others could know how hard it was for me—but I didn’t. And now being on the other side of it all, I’m glad I refrained from posting about it. I’m not saying that you can’t ever post on social media about it, I just believe it’s best to not let that be the primary place you vent. That’s what friends (the real life flesh-and-blood kind) are for.
And again, I know it’s not easy to let others in to see our pain. I struggle with pride as much as the next guy. But I knew that I dare not suffer through this waiting thing alone, so I included my parents and brothers in the journey right away. I confided in a small group of friends and had them praying regularly for me. And I had one close friend who would call me daily just to see how I was feeling that day, to check if I actually got out of bed, to ask what my highlight and low-point of that day was, etc. Don’t go it alone. Rambo wasn’t based on a true story. And even the Lone Ranger had Tonto.
Don’t Be Receiving-Stingy
You know how some people can be really stingy when it comes to giving? They’re just not all that generous, they’re basically bad at giving to others. Well I’ve found it’s also possible to be stingy with receiving. You know those people—the ones who can never accept a gift from anyone, never let someone else pay the bill, instantly want to get a gift for you of equal or greater value the day after you gave them something. They live like that under this guise of false humility and generosity. They label others’ acts of generosity towards them with words like “pity” and “charity” and remind everyone how they don’t need those things. But it really is unhealthy at the end of the day to live like that. It’s what I would call being “receiving stingy.”
Why is it unhealthy? Because for one thing, we’re all going to take turns being the one in need. Your time will come. So will theirs. What if that’s part of the beauty of community and relationships—that each of us is constantly ready to help others in their time of need, knowing that they will be there for us in our time of need, at which point we’d better be ready to be on the receiving end.
Again, this was a really tough one for me. My entire career of pastoring centers around the idea of helping others in their time of need, of caring for everyone else through their trials. So it was extremely humbling and challenging to have the tables turned and be on the receiving end. But I’m so glad I was able to humble myself to receive from others. It was such a huge blessing in my life, and I think I was able to teach and model so much to my kids throughout it. We are so grateful that friend after friend would have us over to dinner or give us a gift card to see a movie or eat out or consistently ask what they could do to help us. And you know what? Not only was this a huge blessing to my family and I, I think it meant a lot to others to get to be involved in helping us. When we constantly refuse help from others, they don’t end up feeling all impressed that we were so self-sufficient, like we think they will. They actually often end up feeling left out, sort of useless and powerless, and certainly less of a key person in our lives.
Please don’t miss out on this. It’s OK to be the one in need and on the receiving end sometimes—everyone will get their turn. When you learn to receive well, you will feel more blessed than you ever have in your life, and you’re allowing others the deep joy that comes from getting to serve and provide for a friend.
Just Get Through Today
One lesson I wasn’t expecting to learn was this—to focus on just one day at a time. There’s an old prayer that reminds me of that too: “Give us today our daily bread.” Part of my career involved constantly planning ahead, weeks and months at a time, so I didn’t realize how much I was so used to looking ahead. The problem was, if I kept thinking weeks and months ahead in my waiting—wondering what I’d do if I was still unemployed three months from now, etc.—then I’d start getting really overwhelmed and even panicked. I kept having to remind myself that I just can’t plan that far ahead anymore. I had no idea when a job opportunity might pop up: yes, it could be three months from now, but it could also be this week, tomorrow, or this afternoon. Even the idea every Monday of facing the entire week ahead doing nothing but job-searching felt overwhelming. So I just had to focus on one day at a time.
One idea that someone suggested to me that was hugely helpful was this: find one life-giving thing every day to do. What are the life-giving activities in your life? Pick one, no matter how small, and just do one of those each day. Is it going for a run? Calling a certain person? Writing? Watching sports? Working on the car or in the yard? Maybe you’ve never considered before what sort of things are life-giving to you–and now you get to, and it’ll end up being one of the most valuable things you learn that will carry over even after this waiting is over. It became that for me. I know I needed things like playing basketball, seeing movies in the theater, having lunch with friends—so I found a way to do one of those every day. It got me out of bed, it kept me focused on one day at a time, and it was exactly that: life-giving.
Find Purpose in the Waiting
Ok just one more idea for you, and I saved what I feel is the most important one for last—we need to find a purpose in our waiting. In other words, our waiting must be about far more than just “how do I kill time and survive until I finally get the thing I’ve been waiting so long for.” Waiting can have a purpose, and that purpose can carry you through a season that was seemingly impossible, no matter how long it ends up going.
So what kind of purpose could there possibly be in something as painful and pointless as waiting? Well from a Christian perspective, our purpose can be centered around what God is trying to do in us. I love this quote from one of my favorite pastor/authors John Ortberg:
“Biblically, waiting is not just something we have to do until we get what we want. Waiting is part of the process of becoming who God wants us to be.” Because I believe that’s true, I began telling myself this every single day: “What God does in me while I wait is just as important as what I’m waiting for.” That can be hard to swallow, I know. I’m not saying I even fully believed it the first few weeks I would quote it to myself. But I did it anyway, and I did come to believe it’s true. And I have seen God do a whole lot in me while I wait. Just one more quote for those of you who share this Christian perspective. This became my favorite quote, a much-needed one, and I kept it on my laptop to see every single time I opened it. It comes from pastor/author Andy Stanley: “God is using your circumstances to prepare you to accomplish His vision for your life. Your present circumstances are part of the vision. You are not wasting your time. You are not spinning your wheels. You are not wandering in the wilderness. If you are ‘seeking first’ His kingdom where you are, then where you are is where He has positioned you. And He has positioned you there with a purpose in mind.”
If you’re not coming from this perspective, you can still find purpose in the waiting. Waiting can develop a deep patience and perseverance in you that will serve you well later in life. It can form character. It can teach you the stuff we’ve already talked about (how to rely on others, how to receive well). It can help you be more compassionate toward others throughout the rest of your life who will go through waiting periods—and you’ll better know the best ways to help them through it. You can use the time to learn new skills, develop current skills, expand your knowledge-base. Or just to read more. And have more family time. And to really truly rest, and see what kind of a person you are when you are well-rested and refreshed.
Waiting is just plain hard, and we have no idea how long it will last, or what’s waiting for us at the other end of it. But we can survive it. We can even learn to somehow thrive in it. But we must commit to not just try to fast-forward to the end of it to get what we want. We will see so much happen in our lives if we commit to really dwell in the waiting, one day at a time, relying and receiving, learning and growing. And then what awaits us on the other end of the waiting will be truly worth the wait—in many ways.
Written by Carter Moss