I'm terrible at waiting. I admit it. But this last season of waiting for a VISA has forced me to confront this huge area of weakness in my life.
When the thing I’m wanting to happen doesn’t appear to be happening, I tend to get angry. I tend to try harder. Work harder. Push harder. I can try and manipulate the situation and prod harder to see if that will work. I'm fairly used to getting my own way and so confusion, despair, anxiety and even cynicism soon creep in.
Very quickly I lose perspective. I genuinely think my “suffering” is probably unparalleled in the world. No one quite understands. The pain I feel can lead me to be tempted to just look for a way to medicate it. Try and numb or ignore it.
When I feel out of control in a specific area, I'm also prone to then try and control pretty much any other area of my life. It's why I can easily end up overly snappy with those around me who don’t jump in line in whatever way I’m wanting them to.
Travelling to Mumbai, India showed me that patience is possible; waiting well, achievable. In a city of 20 million people you simply have to be patient. No one is living under the illusion that they are in control! Travelling anywhere is such a hugely full on experience, that the net result is a huge population of fundamentally calm people . Everyone has to surrender to the truth - I’m not in control.
When seated in a ocean of cars crawling along, you are confronted with this truth. You just can’t deny it.
Whereas in Canterbury, England, population 80,000, you can easily believe the lie: ‘I am in control’ And so when there’s some slight delay in traffic or whatever, I’m shocked. I'm surprised. I'm not living emotionally in the same place my Indian friends are of calm, ongoing surrender to the reality of not being in control.
My place of living lies to me.
The instant ‘next day’ or even ‘same day’ delivery world I inhabit, contributes to the lie: ‘you're in control. You can have what you want immediately.’
And so ‘fragile Tom’ continues to get older, but no more patient.
A key, I’m very slowly learning, is to do with how we wait.
Henri Nouwen rightly says that if we are waiting in a way that is fundamentally wishing a certain thing will happen, we actually live in fear. And fearful people don’t wait well. (Finding my Way Home, p93)
If we have our hearts entirely based on that thing, that wish, coming true, we become fearful of it not happening. Yes, outwardly we are waiting but inwardly, we are terrified. Scared of “what happens if my wish does not come true?” Fearful we will not be provided for. Fearful of hurt. It's why we so often lash out in a ‘first strike’ mentality: control and conquer before there’s any chance of being hurt.
As fearful people, we have a hard time waiting because fear urges us to get away from where we are. If we find we cannot flee, we may fight instead. We are aware of the many destructive acts that arise from our fear that something harmful will be done to us.
Right here are the roots of the "first strike" approach to others. Those who live in a world of fear are more likely to make aggressive, hostile, destructive responses than people who are not so frightened. The more afraid we are, the harder waiting becomes. That is why waiting is such an unpopular attitude for so many of us.
The alternative, Nouwen suggests, is the Christian way: hope.
To wait, not for our wishes to come true, but full of hope in God, is very different. It is freer from fear. It is in essence saying: Father, I’m honest about my desires. I would like this to happen. However I believe you are Good. So Good! And so kind, wise and generous that even if this doesn't happen, I know you are still Good. Your plans are still Good. And whatever reason that that specific wish has not happened, you are still Lord over all.
Father, I wish this traffic would speed up and get to the school pick-up on time. I ask for that. But I also trust you. I put my hope in you. As your son/daughter/child, I can be totally secure in your perfect plans. That if your will is other than that, then I can trust you. I Hope in YOU. In Your Goodness and good and pleasing plans. Even if they're very different to my wishes.
Father, I wish to have a husband who is different. I ask you for that. But I also surrender to your mysterious and always good and perfect plans. You do ‘work all things for the good of those who love you' (Rom 8: 28). I put my hope and heart into You more than an outcome.
Father, I really wish this VISA would come. I’m sure you’ve told me you want us to move to America. But Father, I do submit to you and the possibility that your timing and ways are different to mine. You are always at work. And your work is always good. I put my hope in your personality as infinitely Good and Loving. Even when I’m waiting.
Father, I put my hope in You and trust that waiting is never a movement from nothing to something. But always from something to something more. You are always at work. Up to something. Even during the waiting.
I put my hope in your promises, that your timing and ways are perfect and that ‘the action’ is not ‘over there...somewhere else.’ But that even here, where it feels like nothing is happening, you, the great Potter, are hard at work. Shaping me. Changing me.
I put my hope in more of an 'open-ended’ outcome. I choose to not cling to a specific wish occurring. I ask you to help me to keep open to all possibilities. I am trusting that I do not see things clearly, but You do. I surrender in hope of your presence, love, mercy and relationship being utterly enough. Needing the Father more than the fruit.
I put my hope in your unfailing goodness and mercy. Knowing that you will not let my foot slip and that your grace is sufficient despite all my weakness.
Fearful people wait badly.
Hope-filled people wait a little better.
Dad, help me to be filled with Hope, more than my personal wishes.