Monday, October 12, 2015

life in God's waiting room

I’ve been thinking about waiting. The waiting you do when your hopes and dreams have been deferred—again. The waiting you do when you’re offered the opportunity you longed for but have to turn it down—again. The waiting you do when the future is uncertain and your plans can only be tentative and provisional—again.

Waiting, through twelve years of raising young children and five years of our son’s chronic illness, for a time when I can do more of the ministry I love outside the home. Waiting, through my husband’s cancer diagnosis, a six-week hospital stay and half a year of chemotherapy, to be washed up on the shores of not-quite-ordinary life again. Waiting, now, for his medical scans, the fork in the road; one path leading to further treatment, the other to four more years of waiting until we receive the all-clear.

Waiting for the waiting to be over.

So what do I do, here in life’s waiting room? Do I choose escapism? Do I complain and grow resentful? I do both, sometimes. But surely there are better uses of this time.

Here’s how I see it. There are two possible things going on here.

The first is that this isn’t so much a waiting room as God’s training-ground. A hothouse where I’m grown in Christlike character (Jas 1:2-4). A boot-camp to strengthen the muscles of perseverance, humility and hope (Rom 5:3-4; 1 Pet 5:6-11). God’s university, where he teaches me to mourn with those who mourn (Rom 12:15) and gives me the comfort that I will one day share with others (2 Cor 1:3-7), preparing me for life and ministry.

The second is that this isn’t a waiting room for life; it is life. These hardships may continue for many years. In which case, this isn’t preparation for anything more than the hard slog of patient endurance. And that’s okay. Because if I never get to do the ministries I long for, and just keep encouraging others by trusting God in hardship, that will be sufficient service for a lifetime.

Come to think of it, those aren’t alternatives. They are different perspectives, views of the same reality from opposite sides. Whatever God has in store, this is both training for life and life itself. This is the life God has given us. You don’t stop living just because you are waiting.

So what do I do, here in the waiting room?
  • I fulfil the duties of this time. I may not have chosen them—the doctors’ visits, the extra school trips, the weight of care—but this is the good work God has given me, and I try (and often fail!) to do it cheerfully, patiently and well. 
  • I make the most of the time we have together as a family to build strong relationships as a foundation for whatever may come (I’ve planned more family holidays and weekends with my husband this year). 
  • I train my own mind, and the hearts and minds of our children, to trust God during the trials we face now and the ones we may face in the future. 
  • I remember all those who have waited: for an affliction to end (Ps 27:14), a prayer to be answered (Ps 5:3), a ministry to begin (Exod 7:7), a hope to be fulfilled (1 Sam 1), and (this includes all of us) for Jesus to return (Rev 22:20). I am not alone. 
  • I put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes this means telling myself, “I know you feel lousy, but just do the next thing. It might make you feel a little better, and if it doesn’t, at least you will have finished one more task.” 
  • I pray the prayers of those who wait (e.g. Ps 130), bringing my fear, grief, disappointment and frustration to God, turning to him rather than away from him. 
  • I make plans that assume life will continue the way it is but that allow for uncertainty, then commit these plans into God’s hands (Jas 4:13-15). 
  • I manage my energy levels so I can keep serving: a good night’s sleep, regular exercise, a daily time of rest, and a weekly morning off to read an encouraging book, pray, and reflect on life. 
  • I live the ordinary Christian life wherever we are, from hospital to home (1 Pet 4:19). I read my Bible, pray for others, turn from sin, meet with God’s people, and try to use every opportunity to make Jesus known. 
  • I choose ministries that I can maintain, that use my limited time effectively to meet others’ needs, and that allow for interruptions. It helps if some of these ministries energize me so I can fulfil my primary ministry to our family. 
  • I learn the lessons that waiting teaches me: that we may plan, but God directs our steps (Prov 16:9); that the building of his kingdom doesn’t depend on our usefulness (Ps 127:1-2; 1 Cor 3:7-9); that his grace is sufficient for every day he gives us to face (2 Cor 12:9-10). 
  • I fight to choose contentment, thanksgiving, trust, and joy (1 Thess 5:16-18), remembering that God’s plans for me are better than any I could make for myself.
I don’t want to waste this time in the waiting room. I want to use it, every bit of it. Whether it turns out to be a waiting room or simply the life God has given us, I want to be able to look back and say: I did the work God gave me to do, in his strength and for his glory. And that is more honour than I deserve, and joy and privilege enough for me.

This article first appeared at

Photo credit: Erich Ferdinand


Abigail said...

Thank you, Jean. I've been blessed by your blog for a couple of years now. Amen and amen and amen to this post! Waiting IS life. It IS our training ground and hothouse. But while the wait is NOT worth comparing to the glory yet to be revealed, still we groan. And remember that in some only God way it is achieving a glory that far outweighs the wait.

Lee Carter said...

Jean, thanks so much for your perceptive and godly observations. Your willingness to share your struggles so honestly and eloquently is a great encouragement - I hope this morsel of feedback is the same for you. :)

Andy said...

Thank you. I read this post on the GoThereFor newsletter and it has been so timely for me. I have four children under 5 yrs old, a little discontent in my current employment and eyeing full time missionary work; what you described as God's waiting room is perfectly appropriate. Thank you for the encouragement to live for Him today.

Jean said...

It seems that this post struck a chord with lots of people. So glad that God used it to encourage you all.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Jean,
So encouraging to read this. I always seems to be waiting- for when I have more time, or when I am no longer working full time. But this reminds me to 'bloom where God planted me'. I am where I am for a purpose.
I like the way you can speak through your writings and share your story.
It is difficult not to sound too preachy, but I can only continue in my life's struggles through Jesus, my lord and saviour.

Gloria said...

All I can say what a blessing your blog is to me and how real you our about your life. I really enjoyed your articles on contentment. My prayer for you is that Almighty God will continue to give you strength for all you go through.

Jean said...

Thanks, Gloria. I'm glad my blog is a blessing to you.