waiting: if only I knew how long

Photo by Xu Haiwei on Unsplash

I’ve learned to love to wait. Waiting is one of those things I know I’m not naturally very good at, and really didn’t want to learn, either. Cynically, perhaps, I have learned that often the dreamy anticipation of a thing brings more pleasure than the actual realization of the thing. More optimistically, I know that quiet patience-of-heart is an essential virtue for my growing soul. Practically, it saves me from bogs of unnecessary freneticism.

It has been a long learning.

I’ve realized lately that perhaps the most difficult thing about waiting is not in enduring the time that must elapse, but in not knowing how long that time will be. Waiting periods with a known, definite time limit – 2 hours til quittin’ time, 30 days until we close on our home and move out of this tiny apartment, 40 (or so) weeks of pregnancy, 15 more work days until our vacation – are often gotten-through without much trouble due to sheer grit and mental distraction. But the times when we must wait for an indeterminate amount of time? Much more painful.

How long?

It is an age-old question.

The Hebrew God, exhausted and exasperated by Pharoah’s oppressive regime, asked “How long will you refuse to humble yourself? Let my people go.” (Exodus 10:3)

The Psalmic poems are full of how long: “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” (Psalm 13:1-2)

It is the heart-throbbing of every oppressed soul, every advocate for justice, and every martyr: “How long?”

I remember it poignantly during the labor and delivery of my children: How long? I have known pain and I can endure it. I am strong. I can fight… at least for awhile. I would be so much stronger if only I knew how much longer I’d have to do it. Is there any way I can just get a ballpark estimate?

Looking back, the indeterminate times have been far more formative and strengthening for my psyche and my soul than the waiting times with a known, pre-determined time limit. The how long times require me to rest in not knowing rather than rely on the promise of the fixed end-date. The how long times require me to face my lack of control rather than keep a tight grip on the approaching end. The how long times invite me to thoroughly enjoy today – the not-yet, still-waiting day – rather than fixate on the greener grass beyond the finish line.

I’ve found that it’s really good for my soul always to be waiting for something. Patiently waiting and anticipating – in a way that makes me more awake today (a not-yet day) – not fretfully and discontentedly pining. Sometimes relishing all the lovely things I’m waiting for – cherry season, our next three-day weekend, Thursday lunch date with my husband, a long-awaited project completion – rescues me from the anxiety or self-pity or bitterness of today still being a not-yet day.

How has the how-long kind of waiting changed you? How do you see its being good for your soul? What soul-expanding things are you waiting for beyond the end of the viral pandemic?


4 responses to “waiting: if only I knew how long”

  1. Love thinking that we’re in a “how long ?” kind of season and the ramifications of that. I’ve had to face the fact that I often trust in knowing rather than in the Lord and His provision. So practicing being content in the uncertainty is one fruit of the “how long.” Thanks, J.

    1. Thanks, Kathy. Yes, I love your “being content in the uncertainty”; and, maybe, too, certain in the discontent of “how long.”

  2. I feel this so much. I’m waiting for God’s promises to come true. God promised me the romantic and social desires of my heart…almost 13 years ago and the exact opposite (abruptly having to leave the only church community I ever felt home in and a divorce – in the middle of a pandemic while others get to build/deepen a partnership, literally the only thing I’ve ever wanted in life) has been happening.

    1. Yes, how to wait for Good, Beauty, and Flourishing in the midst of Pain, Darkness, and Illness. Where there is no sign of the former. Thanks so much for sharing, Megan.