Waiting


The Western Wall that once surrounded the Temple in Jerusalem

The Western Wall that once surrounded the Temple in Jerusalem

They were common, every day people like you and me. They could have been your next door neighbors–you know, the cute elderly couple with the candles in their windows every Christmas? You helped him shovel out his driveway, and she always thanked you with a plate of chocolate chip cookies. These two people, this couple, I imagine, where like that–only Christmas didn’t exist yet, and they were about to play an important part in it’s story…

They most likely met at a really young age–she younger than him–and he probably asked her father to marry her in exchange for a few of his best goats. He had a good job, he was a priest in the temple. They would serve God, obey His commandments, wait for the Messiah to come–and there would be babies! They would have a lot of children. The young girl’s father said yes, and the two were married. Their names were Zechariah and Elizabeth, and when they began their life together, I believe they had all the traditional dreams married couples have.

Then a few years went by, and no children. A few more, and it began to look like having a baby was not possible. Having children was believed to be a sign of blessing from God–a status symbol even. They prayed to God for children, but many more years went by, revealing that Elizabeth was barren. It had to have been a painful waiting, followed by a sad resignation. Yet, we are told:

Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.

Luke 1:6

They continued on, serving God. They didn’t turn away in anger.

One day, long after his hair and beard turned silver, Zechariah was serving in the temple. The priests did their traditional casting of lots to see who would go into the most Holy place in the temple to burn the incense, and Zechariah was chosen. He entered the temple, and made his way to the altar where the incense was to be burned. Just as he approached, the Angel of the Lord appeared, standing just to the right of the altar. His heart must have jumped into his throat, his palms must have started to sweat. He froze in fear. But the Angel said:

Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John…”

Luke 1:13

God speaks to him in a way that let’s Zechariah know, He has heard him. The Angel goes on to say that their son, John, is going to be special–not “My kid is an honor student” special, but rather “History-maker” special. John would be the one who would prepare God’s people for Jesus’ coming. Unfortunately, Zechariah was more stuck on the first part:

“How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

Luke 1:18

As if the presence of a heavenly messenger wasn’t enough, Zechariah looked at the Angel like “I think you have the wrong guy.” He hadn’t given up serving God, but he had began to doubt His power. He and Elizabeth prayed and prayed, but when he was told that their prayers had been heard–and were about to be answered–Zechariah didn’t believe God could do it. He had grown cold in his faith. He had stopped believing that God could do the impossible.

So, because of his disbelief, the Angel tells him that he won’t be able to talk until his child is born. It is as though, through the Angel, God said to Zechariah “Be quiet, and watch what I am about to do.” Nine months later, his wife became a mother.

Have you ever been in a time of waiting? Have you ever reached the point where what you are waiting for seems like it is never going to happen?  Are you in that place now? Are you–like Zechariah–beginning to doubt that God has heard your prayer–and that He has the power to answer?

Do you remember that time in your childhood when the hardest, yet most exciting thing you had to wait for, was Christmas morning?  Christmas Eve would arrive, and all day the anticipation would run through your small, Energizer Bunny arms and legs. The moment you had waited for for 364 days, was almost there. Then bed time would come, only butterflies had taken up residence in your kid-sized belly, and sleeping didn’t feel like an option. Your parents tucked you in under the covers, turned off the light, and closed the door to your bedroom. And then, staring up at the ceiling–trying to will yourself to sleep–you WAITED.

Those were the days.

If only we had known as children that waiting was going to be a staple of our adult lives.  That the things that we want most in life aren’t usually found wrapped under the Christmas tree. And that Santa wasn’t really able to bring us things like a new job, a new place to live, friendships, or even someone to grow old with. (Cause as we all know now, Santa wasn’t even able to get our presents under the tree without a little help from mom and dad!)

Ironically though, the arrival of each Christmas Season has a funny way of echoing our Christmas’ past, by reminding us of the things in our lives that we are now most anxiously awaiting. It may be because it is right before we start a new year. Or it could be because Christmas means seeing relatives that will ask us loaded questions that we don’t even like to ask ourselves (like “Are you dating anyone?” or “Where are you working these days?”). Finally, perhaps it is because at the very foundation of the first Christmas was a prophecy–a promise–that a group of people waited over 700 years to see fulfilled.

In the book of Isaiah, written 750 years before Jesus was born, we find words that are almost as familiar to us as Frosty the Snowman:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah 9:6

All through the Old Testament, God promised His people, the Israelites, that He would send the Messiah–the One who would save them from slavery and brokenness. They waited with expectation–some dying long before Jesus’ birth. Others probably began to believe that God had forgotten them, but He hadn’t. He was seeing the picture of all of Time, when we only have the ability to see our lives, right now.

In His perfect timing, we are told that Jesus was born in the middle of the night, long ago, in a humble stable. God hadn’t forgotten.

nativity lightThe Story of Christmas is one in which we are reminded that God hasn’t forgotten us in our waiting. That we aren’t the only ones very aware of where we are feeling empty or as if there is a gap in our lives, waiting to be fulfilled. He is aware of us and our waiting. In fact, it is often in these times of longing that He wants to meet us, and be with us as we wait in incredibly real ways.

So, as the Christmas season begins to shine a big spotlight on a place you may be waiting in your life, know that this holiday isn’t for the happy people with perfect lives (aka the people in the target commercials).  This season is for you and for me–for all of us who need to be reminded that we are not forgotten, and that there is still much to hope for!

This post is Linked up with Tanya Marlow’s Advent Series.

As I shared yesterday, I have found that when I am in times of waiting it is good to have a soundtrack. In moments where we are wondering why something isn’t happening yet, and we don’t have the words to express our feelings about it, music can help.

As you will see I have a somewhat eclectic taste in music, but here are a few songs that are keeping me company these days or have, in other times of waiting:

Wait by Mat Kearney: Part rap, part melody, this song captures what it feels like to be at the end of our rope–or at least close.

Broken by Lifehouse: This is a beautiful song about holding on to hope when we feel like we’ve been broken for too long.

Useless Desires by Patty Griffin: This song is all about saying goodd-bye. Sometimes our seasons of waiting are ones in which we are learning to say good-bye to the past, in order to be ready for what’s ahead.

“You Have Me” by The Michael Gungor Band (now known as Gungor): This song brings me back to being nineteen, when I first answered God’s call to ministry. Back then I thought the plan God had for me was going to be straight and sure. Now, I know the road is anything but straight, yet that God’s love for me is SO sure–I can trust Him. This song is a prayer that centers me.

“Fill Me Up” by Kim Walker/Jesus Culture: Waiting can make you feel empty. It can make you feel like you have nothing left to give and no direction to go in. This song is simple yet exactly what I need to say some days.

I Will Wait by Mumford & Sons: I will leave you with this one that is on Mumford & Sons’ newest release.  There comes a point in waiting, where we have to stop striving to fix things, and do just that–wait.

Are you in a time of waiting?  Waiting for the right job? or any job? To meet someone to date? To have a baby? To get your ticket out of town? As I have shared this week, I am in a time of waiting, but I don’t come to it without some experience. So today, I want to share some things to do that I have found to be helpful in times of waiting. I don’t do them all perfectly, but when I do them, they help:

Enjoy the Season: Try to remember that this time of waiting is just a season of life. So often we are focused on what we want to happen, that we miss the good things that are right in front of us. What is the good in your season right now?

Try New Things: Often, times of waiting are punctuated by extra time or space in our schedules. Rather than allow these times of quiet to overwhelm us, why not use it as an opportunity to try something new? For example, as I have been seeking out and waiting for a new job, I decided to learn how to bake bread. I have tried Challah, Ciabatta, Foccacia, and everyday sandwich bread. I love baking bread! Before I know it, I will enter into a season where I have less time to be creative. Now is the time to take advantage of this extra space. Try something that will rejuvenate and inspire you!

Make You’re Own Soundtrack: Sometimes we can have really strong feelings without the words to express them. Music, I have found helps me in those times. Find some songs that speak to what your are feeling, create a playlist or mix CD, and listen to them when you find yourself in a funk. (Bonus: I will share my playlist tomorrow!)

Cultivate Your Friendships: Don’t wait alone. Be real with your friends about your struggles, while at the same time don’t spend all of your time talking about them. Share your friend’s burdens, and also plan things with your friends that help you get “out of your head.”  It may mean going on a hike, having a cooking contest (my sister and her friends are having a “best wings” contest next week), or going somewhere new! Be creative.

Keep Praying: When I am struggling with part or all of my reality, I often get mad at God for allowing me to be in that place. So I first resort to the “silent treatment” or “I will talk about everything but what I really care about” with Him.  But this “silent treatment” gets me no where. I have found that God would rather hear my frustration than my silence. God can handle my anger, and His big love for me isn’t going to go away if I am honest. Incredibly, by turning toward Him in my frustration, rather than away, I find that many times I experience God in amazing ways. In facts, part of why God allows us to be in times of waiting, is because He wants to reveal something to us about Himself.  When this happens, we begin to see that waiting is a gift, and not a curse.

Life is full of times where we find ourselves in the waiting room.  Sitting in a doctor’s office because you or someone you love is sick, at the mechanic because your car needs to be fixed, at the dentist because you have to, or in a business office for a job interview. Like it or not, times of waiting just find us. Yet what I am beginning to realize is that in life, the greatest times of waiting, often happen outside of the waiting room.

As I shared on Monday, where I used to have a “plan” for my life, I now have questions and the unknown. For ten months now I have been in a time of waiting.  And though different than any experience I have had before, it is a quiet and persistent struggle, I am familiar with.

Six years ago, about Christmas time, I told God that I couldn’t do another year single.  I was living far from where I grew up, far from my friends, and far from my family. I had never really had a long term relationship, which was getting old, and I didn’t want to be alone anymore. So I prayed that God would bless me with a husband (and particularly that my now husband would be that man!). Broken and lonely, I prayed boldly, and with everything I had.

(This is the part of the story where I would love to tell you that I woke up the next morning, and my future husband was knocking on my door–but he wasn’t).

A month after I prayed, I sensed God say “not yet.”  Six months later, I felt Him say “It’s going to be another year.” Five months after that, I entered into one of the most darkest, loneliest times I have ever known.

Then, a few months later, I thought I was coming out on the other side. I started dating someone who was really great, but soon broke it off because I just sensed he wasn’t “the one.”  Another whole year went by–a year of waiting, of my dad getting cancer, and of deciding to get counseling. It was a year that felt like everything and nothing was happening at the same time.

Until finally, a little over two years after my bold prayer, I found myself on a hike in early February, with the man I had prayed would be my husband. Ten months later, we were engaged.

I obviously skipped some details from those two years because it would be too much to share here. But I can tell you that what I learned is that God was using everything that happened in between to stretch and grow me in so many important ways. If I hadn’t gone through that time of waiting, I wouldn’t have been ready for my marriage. In fact, those years were part of God’s way of answering my prayer for a husband in the fullest sense. It was as if He was saying, “yes, I will bless you, but when you are ready for it.”

Today, as I wait once again, I am trying to hold on to the fact that it is in our times of being in Life’s waiting room that God is doing the most important work of preparing us for what is next.

Confession: I am a planner. I like Calendars–paper or digital. I like being able to visibly view the day, week, or month ahead. I like planning times to get together with friends, adventures we will take on a weekend, what we will eat next week, and even what I will do after I finish writing this post. It can kinda get out of hand.

It began in High School, when due to my “over-achiever” personality, I began to realize that I received a sense of pleasure and accomplishment from being able to juggle everything I wanted to do (student council, youth congress, etc.), with everything I didn’t want to do (algebra and chemistry). I loved when I had a different activity after school every day, or when my Algebra Two teacher asked if I would be attending class any time this semester because all of my activities came with “dismissed-from-class” field trips. The more I “accomplished,” the more I felt almost super-human.

My love for planning (and event juggling) continued through college and into my job in youth ministry.  I loved planning ahead, foreseeing things that needed to be done, and finding a rhythm each year that was just predictable enough–while leaving room for the unexpected. Two years ago, I would have been able to tell you what I was doing in February, May, and in June. But now? Now, I can’t even tell you about next week.

As I shared a few months ago, my plans have changed. Before my eyes, my dreams have become sand. Not working these past ten months have made my days quiet. I am undergoing a planning withdrawal, that sneaks up on me in the form of anxiety.

Who am I if I am not busy?

Who am I without a paycheck?

Who am I without a job?

These questions find me at random moments, picking away at any sense of contentment or faith, until I catch myself from falling into the valley of despair–but honestly, there have been days when I don’t catch myself. Days when my husband comes home from work, to find me sitting on the couch in a funk, because these questions have over taken me.

I can’t plan anything right now because I don’t know where this path will take me. I can only take steps of faith and one day at a time. I am used to being the one with “the plan.” Now, I don’t have any plan. And you know what?

It’s OK.

Like I said, it often doesn’t feel OK, but it’s OK because I have been in places of the unknown before, and God has always been faithful. It’s OK, because busyness doesn’t always equal fulfillment, accomplishment, or any of those things I used to believe in High School. It’s Ok, because even though I don’t have a plan, God promises that there is a plan for me, and that it is good. Finally, it’s OK, because although I haven’t always had friends on the journey, God has blessed me with some very good ones right now, and one of them told me last week:

“You can’t plan your significance.”

God ultimately decides, and if I can’t plan the most important thing I will do or be, then its time to embrace this vacation from planning, this time of waiting.

Today, this post is linked up with:

On In Around button