“The waiting is the hardest part.”
Or so the old song goes. And yet, the waiting is exactly what we’ve been called to. Not just in this most recent year of pandemic, but more acutely in this most recent season of Lent. As the world has been locked in a state of involuntary inaction for more than a full calendar year, we who follow Christ and observe the liturgical rhythms of the year have been in a heightened state of waiting for the last six or so weeks as we anticipate our celebration of the resurrection.
This year, as you can read in my last post at the beginning of Lent, I decided to do two things to mark the season. I gave up watching hockey (and specifically my beloved Maple Leafs as they enjoy what has turned out to be their best season in my entire lifetime), and I took up the discipline of going for daily walks outside with no soundtrack, just to listen to what God might say to me. The first discipline of giving something up has been remarkably easy. While I have certainly missed the opportunity to cheer on my team, my time has been filled with many other good things and I don’t feel as though I have suffered for it. Consequently, I have been 100% faithful to my commitment and haven’t watched even a minute of a hockey game since Ash Wednesday.
But the second discipline; the discipline of walking, of leaving my comfortable home on the days when it was still seasonably cold—and most of all the discipline of silence and listening—that has been much, much harder. And if I’m honest, I haven’t been nearly as faithful to follow through on it during this season. And the reason that is, I believe, comes down to waiting.
When I walk I’m left alone with my thoughts. I’m untethered from the constant noise and activity of my regular life. I want so badly to make that time productive and fruitful—I want to grow, I want to learn, develop, innovate, or at the bare minimum to hear from God as I walk. But day after day as I trace the same path around my neighbourhood all I discover about myself is that I am impatient, easily distracted, and thoroughly ungrateful for the opportunity that the discipline presents to me. I long to take along my headphones so that I can make progress on that audiobook I’m studying for our board of elders. I spend time thinking about my upcoming sermon and in a moment of inspiration craft the perfect application that I can’t wait to get home and write down. I think about the many tasks that are waiting for me when I return and the things that are NOT getting done while I’m out here wasting time on a walk, and rather than grow better, I find myself growing bitter. I can’t wait to be done.
But then a moment of self-awareness washes over me. And I realize that the unproductivity, the forced pause of activity, and even the boredom that I
frequently experience on these walks is the point of it all. It’s the point of Lent, and it’s perhaps the point of (or at least one of the points of) what I’ve needed to learn in this past year as well. God is in the waiting.
When I wait, I am reminded that the world does not depend on me. I might miss out, I might fall behind, I might not be a part of what happens in my waiting, but the world keeps turning nevertheless. Jesus is the one who makes things happen, as we sang in childhood, “he’s got the whole world in his hands.” When I am unproductive, when I am fallow, when I am kept from the next item on my oh-so-important personal agenda—I am reminded that my agenda is not synonymous with Christ’s. During this past year, we have all had to endure these sorts of delays on a macro scale. We wait for lockdown to end, we wait for vaccinations to come, we wait to see people we miss, we wait to travel again, we wait to mourn the loss of people who have passed away, and we wait to make up for celebrations missed. It’s somewhat Ironic that this pandemic started for us in the midst of the season of Lent because it feels like we’ve been living in Lent the entire time, even as we approach our second pandemic Easter.
But that is where I think the waiting becomes a gift. Because when I wait, I am taught the joy of anticipation. In the book that my small group is studying this semester the author quotes a friend of hers on this very topic who says this:
“I’ve always felt like I was waiting for the gift. But I’ve come to see that the waiting is the gift.”
You could interpret that statement a number of ways, but for me, the gift has been a renewed sense of anticipation. Anticipation about the world after Covid. Anticipation about applying the lessons of this past year in a world without the restrictions of this past year. Anticipation about renewing our fellowship as the church. Anticipation about celebrating the resurrection with my church family in a way that we could simply not do last year. I feel like a child waiting for Christmas, but I am a man waiting for Easter.
So yes, the waiting IS the hardest part. But that which is hard need not be absent of hope. Sometimes the waiting is exactly what we need to see a better world on the other side of the empty covid ward, or the empty tomb.
Stick with it. Your future is worth waiting for.