By: Barr Overcast, Assistant Pastor
For the last month and a half, much of the world has been in a season of waiting. While some experience the realities of COVID19 firsthand, the rest of us wait. And as we wait, we wonder: Will the virus affect us and our community? How long will it last? What will be the state of the economy when it’s all said and done? Can I spend another two months at home without going crazy?
I wrote this article last summer. When I first wrote it, I didn’t expect it would ever see the light of day. At the time, my wife and I had just had a miscarriage and were definitely in no place emotionally to advertise that fact via blogpost. This article began as a personal exercise in processing what I was feeling and thinking, not a way to communicate those thoughts to others. But as we continue to wait for this current season to end, I realized that the place I was in when I wrote it is the same one that many of us are in now: the static, dry land of waiting.
While some of the particulars have changed, (now we wait for deliverance from this virus, for life to return to “normal,” and for our son to be born—any day now!) these words continue to reflect the state of my heart as I learn what it means to wait for the Lord. As our church navigates this season of waiting, I hope that my own thoughts and experience will challenge and encourage you as we wait to be together in person again.
Waiting Then and Now
Like so many kids leading up to Christmas, my sister and I could hardly hold in our anticipation. It was the only night of the year when we were allowed to sleep somewhere other than our own bedrooms. We would sleep on the pullout couch in the playroom on Christmas Eve, our excitement feeding off of each other. We weren’t allowed to go downstairs until 6 a.m., and 5:45 would inevitably find us both sitting at the top of the staircase, waiting for the clock to strike 6.
Recently, my wife and I celebrated our five-year anniversary. We celebrated with an evening at a bed and breakfast in Memphis and dinner at a nice restaurant. While we were waiting for our food, my wife asked the question, “If you had to describe our fifth year of marriage in one word, what would that word be?” The word I chose was “consummation.”
I explained that our fourth year of marriage had felt like a year of waiting. It started with the tail-end of a long period of waiting to get pregnant. It continued with nine months of waiting for our daughter to be born, which coincided with waiting to graduate from seminary and find a job. In contrast, our fifth year of marriage marked the consummation of so many of our hopes. I finished my last seminary class. Our daughter was born. I got ordained and started my first job as a pastor.
However, as I’ve continued to reflect on that conversation, I’ve begun to realize how very wrong I was. It’s true that our fifth year of marriage was in many ways a culmination of our prior waiting, but it was also filled with plenty of waiting of its own. My position at Christ Redeemer required me to raise support, so the first half of our fifth year of marriage was a daily test of waiting for the money to come so that we could move here. On top of that, we are trying to get pregnant again. We recently had a miscarriage, and even as I write this, we are processing the hard reality that yet another month has passed and we aren’t pregnant. We’ve entered another period of waiting for something that is out of our control.
Waiting as a Way of Life
I don’t think it’s inaccurate to say that life is defined by our waiting, that the primary state of the Christian life is not consummation but anticipation. This is not to say that God doesn’t answer our prayers or that there isn’t joy in the Christian life. But in this life we never reach a place of true consummation; we never reach a place where all our desires have been met and we are finished waiting. There is always another valley waiting on the other side. But it goes deeper even than this.
As believers, we are always living in the “not yet.” Even when we are experiencing a season of consummation, we are still living in a period of waiting, because no matter what is happening in our earthly circumstances we are always waiting for Christ to come back. We are always “waiting for our blessed hope” (Titus 2:13), and not only us, but all of creation (Rom 8:19). Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 1:10, even defines conversion in terms of waiting. In speaking of the Thessalonians’ conversion, he refers to them turning to God from idols and waiting “for his Son from heaven.”
Both the valleys of waiting and the hilltops of consummation teach us to long for this final hope. The beauty of the valleys is that they teach us not to put our hopes in this life. The beauty of the hilltops is that they give us a glimpse of what that final day of consummation will be like. They give us a taste that keeps us going.
Come Lord Jesus
I would love to leave you with some neat and tidy advice about how to wait well during the valleys of life. But the reality is that it’s now 20-plus years later, and in so many ways I’m still that kid waiting at the top of the stairs for the clock to strike 6. The object of my anticipation has changed and even matured. The thought of a morning filled with presents no longer fills me with the same sense of anticipation as it used to. Instead, my life is marked by waiting for jobs, children, and restored relationships. But I still hope; I still wait. And most days I don’t wait very well.
So what do we do during these periods where God forces us to wait? We are to follow (often stumbling) the path that God’s people from the past have already tread before us: seeking God as our hope. One such example is Psalm 130, which says, “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the LORD more than watchmen for the morning.” Waiting for the LORD doesn’t mean waiting for him to bring an end to this virus or to give us the children we desire; it means seeking His presence while submitting to His will and His timing in all things. It means learning to long more for our great God than for the good things that He gives. But above all it means echoing the cry of the apostle John at the end of Revelation: “Come, Lord Jesus!”