How do we navigate life’s in-between times?
Maybe it’s the time between receiving a diagnosis and learning whether the treatment has been effective. Or the transition between a full-time job and retirement.
Perhaps it’s being in the midst of a moral seismic shift or a global pandemic without being sure about when or how either will end.
As we attempt to find a way through these in-between times, sometimes we allow worry to sit in the driver’s seat.
We all worry from time to time. And sometimes worry motivates us to solve a problem or make a needed change.
But during in-between times, worry often takes on a compulsive nature and leads us down dead-end roads.
At other times we treat wishes as a sort of GPS. We equate fulfilling our wishes with following a roadmap that will guide us through the uncertainty of in-between times.
But as one saying goes: “Wishes are for genies.” We often wish for things that are unlikely to happen or be achieved—and often during desperate times.
So if worry and wishes both fall short, how else might we think about navigating life’s in-between times?
How about waiting?
Not waiting as twiddling our thumbs to pass the time. Nor as hunkering down to avoid life’s uncertainty or discomfort.
Instead, waiting as described by the theologian Henri Nouwen. In his writings, he encouraged waiting with patience. But he emphasized that patience doesn’t mean passivity:
Waiting patiently is not like waiting for the bus to come, the rain to stop, or
the sun to rise. It is an active waiting in which we live the present moment to the
full in order to find there the signs of the One we are waiting for.
The word patience comes from the Latin verb patior which means “to suffer.”
Waiting patiently is suffering through the present moment, tasting it to the full,
and letting the seeds that are sown in the ground on which we stand grow into
strong plants. Waiting patiently always means paying attention to what is
happening right before our eyes and seeing there the first rays of God’s glorious
Nouwen found it important to try to let go of his wishes and instead to live in hope. He found that when he chose to let go of his sometimes petty and superficial wishes and instead trust that his life was precious and meaningful in the eyes of God, something really new, something beyond his own expectations began to happen to him.
“To wait with openness and trust,” he explained, “is an enormously radical attitude toward life. It is choosing to hope that something is happening for us that is far beyond our own imaginings. It is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life. It is living with the conviction that God molds us in love, holds us in tenderness, and moves us away from the sources of our fear.”
Sometimes waiting is the hardest thing we’re called to do—as individuals and as the church today. We live in a world of instant everything. We’re used to identifying a problem, finding the resources to solve it, and reaching a resolution. We’re used to setting a goal, designing a plan for accomplishing it, and then getting to work. We’re used to determining where we want to go, mapping out a way to get there, and then taking the necessary steps according to our own timetable.
But sometimes what we really need to do is wait. Not passively, but with the real hope that God’s spirit will come to us in a new way and empower us to live into a new story. A new story that may inspire us to move in a new direction rather than simply return to who and what and where we’ve been. A new story that may require us to take a risk and let go of the things and patterns to which we’ve been clinging. A new story that asks us to trust the One who coauthors this narrative with us.
Associate Executive Minister