In theory, Christians ought to be better at waiting than anyone else. We are often called to wait each day: holding off on sex until marriage, delaying the consumption of food as we fast, or refusing to take revenge into our own hands. In a society of instant gratification, it is humbling to meet faithful Christians who are taking seriously the long, slow, hidden work of waiting in the everyday.
Of course all other people wait too: for the rain to stop or start; for a meal to be served or cleared; for the sun to rise or set. Waiting is a very human experience.
Right now the whole world has been forced to wait under the common challenge of COVID-19. We are all waiting: whether to return to work, receive a hug, or gather in public. We are waiting for answers, for updates, or for something fresh in the news cycle. I wonder: what can Christians offer a world under this weight of waiting?
A waiting room is designed to be a passive place of distraction, a place to whittle down the minutes (hours!) until you get where you really want to be. And sometimes life can feel like that. But earth is not heaven’s waiting room; it is more like a dressing room. Moments before a theatre production is about to begin, there is a flurry of activity in the dressing room as each person prepares for their appointed roles, complete with appropriate costumes, gestures, and ways of speaking. But in this analogy the actors are not simply waiting to leave the room, but for the director himself to show up. Waiting in the Christian life is just as active and anticipative. The process of active waiting shapes who we are. This is a time to prepare.
But what is all this preparation for? Like waiting for a director to start the show, we wait for King Jesus to return, kicking off the party of God’s kingdom. The fulfillment of this promise will usher in an age of well-being, where everything that is broken will be made right. When Jesus was here the first time, he revealed his kingdom to be a place where the hungry are fed, the sick are healed, and the “other” is welcomed.
But we are not there yet. We are still in the dressing room, actively waiting and looking forward to the day when all will be restored. We do this by demonstrating what such a kingdom would be like in the way we work, love, and live. Our activity arises not because we doubt our coming hope, but because we know it will come. We’re just getting ready.
In this time of being #safeathome, can I encourage you to be active (rather than passive) in your waiting? You have unique dreams and opportunities, as well as unique challenges and hardships—a chance to improvise a demonstration of the kingdom of God. Often this means serving your “audience”: what would it look like to offer “deep well-being” to those around you? Delivering groceries to those in need? Offering prayer to those who are anxious? Writing a card to those who are lonely? This is not a call to productivity; rather, this is about taking the opportunity to practise walking with Jesus now, even though some days we forget all of the stage directions.
As we rehearse in the dressing room of life, we will encounter disappointments when our efforts don’t turn out as expected. We may mess up our lines or our audience may reject the vision we are trying to portray. But our ultimate expectation—that Jesus will one day make all things right—is so grand that it is beyond derailment, not even by global crises. In this time especially, Christians can offer the world a hopeful picture of God’s drama as they actively demonstrate his kingdom.
Though preparation and work is valued in God’s kingdom, so is rest. The Christian tradition doesn’t simply ask for a flurry of activity, but also encourages us to slow down and lean into the reality of our waiting. Through the centuries, Christians have developed practices of attentive stillness: holding to a Sabbath day of rest, spending extended times in silence and/or solitude, meditating slowly on Scripture in contemplative prayer.
Because Christ the Director has already welcomed us into his drama, our inclusion in his kingdom is not threatened by our human limitations. Thus, in prayer and contemplation, we can slow down and notice that we are waiting for the real show to begin. We can be thankful for simply another breath or for the unclenching of a muscle as we relax into God’s presence, even as we anticipate seeing him face to face. Funny enough, this ends up being a kind of preparation too. Just as actors have to study their characters to become like them, so we slow down and study Jesus.
Have you let yourself enter this rest? This attentive waiting? It can be uncomfortable to be silent with a Silent God. But until we learn this lesson, we will be unable to truly speak with a Speaking God. How can you add some undistracted stillness into your day? Purposeful rhythms of fully setting aside technology is probably a good first step. A specific time for prayer each day, without the pressure of multitasking, is also a helpful practice. As we grow in the skill of stillness, Christians can offer the world the refreshment that they receive from these moments of quiet.
It can be uncomfortable to be silent with a Silent God. But until we learn this lesson, we will be unable to truly speak with a Speaking God.Sam Robins
In some ways, this kind of attentive waiting is harder than purely active waiting. It is challenging to let go of not-yet things in order to embrace our wait. “Waiting on God” can feel like a meaningless cliché, but I’ve experienced that when I sit in silence, waiting for God in the same way in which I would anticipate seeing a dear friend, I become aware that I’m actually waiting with God in the silent darkness of the not-yet. In a way, the Director is already here, if only we would be bold enough to seek him out, actively and attentively.