It is interesting how much you can observe about the ‘morphology of waiting’ from the reception area of a busy doctors’ office, where it seems having to wait is almost inevitable because of the many unpredictable factors that impact how promptly you can see the doctor. Eleven plus years working at a large family practice gave me a diploma-worthy education in the five stages people go through when they have to wait and how to recognize and break the cycle as quickly as possible.
Expectation is the honeymoon stage of waiting, full of hope and promise. Imaginations run wild with creativity and excitement as we contemplate a plethora of ways in which the thing we hope for will be realized. Whether it is a Demerol shot to end days of debilitating pain from migraine, or finally walking down the aisle to marry the one of our dreams, expectation can make us giddy. Call it the ecstasy of anticipation that makes whatever or whomever we are waiting for all the sweeter, but is fleeting and diminishes rapidly, the longer we are forced to wait.
The second stage of waiting is anxiety, which gives rise to 101 questions. What time was my appointment? Am I in the right place? Why is it taking so long? Should I be doing something else? On and on the questions pour out of that worry place, till our blood pressure is climbing and a zoo-worthy butterfly exhibit opens for business in your stomach without permits. This is a good stage because it can be a quest for clarification and an opportunity for correction if there has been some kind of miscommunication or misunderstanding.
Years ago a sign was put up in the office encouraging patients to come up to the front desk with questions, twenty or more minutes after their appointment time had passed. It was definitely a win-win; for patients who were able to get an explanation for the delay, and for staff who may have accidentally dropped the ball. Being willing to ask the tough questions and accept the answers even if we do not like them is one sure way to prevent us from wasting our time waiting for the wrong thing or the wrong person, because the longer the delay, the more difficult the waiting process is going to become.
Frustration! This is stage three and truly where the rubber meets the road in the waiting process; the place of testing where the truth is revealed about the content our character and the condition of our hearts. When we get tired of waiting frustration sets in, the masks come off, gloves come off, earrings come off, stilettos come off and the purse is in the tree! (Seriously, if you know what that last part means you have earned a PhD in cultural awareness or you may be from the ‘hood’. If you have no idea what it means, phone a friend, or post your perplexity in the comment section and I promise to let you know.)
Ironically, our sickest patients were often the most gracious despite their frustration, while others just got ugly, like the Israelites in the desert, grumbling, complaining, demanding, and unwittingly exposing the fact that their love for blessing and comfort far exceeded their love for God. Moses later revealed one reason they had to wait,
“And you shall [earnestly] remember all the way which the Lord your God led you thee forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and to prove you, to know what was in your [mind and] heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.” Deuteronomy 8:2 The Amplified Bible
Joseph languished in an Egyptian prison because his own brothers had sold him into slavery, Potiphar’s cougar wife had lied about him trying to rape her, and the cupbearer whose dream he had correctly interpreted promptly forgot about Joseph and his plea to put in a good word with the Pharaoh for two full years! (Genesis 37, and 39-40). Surely he had earned the right to be frustrated when all the while he was waiting for the fulfillment of dreams of leadership that God had given to him as a young man of seventeen, (Genesis 37:1-11).
Frustration tests our commitment to the things hoped for that are yet unseen, and demands perseverance and discipline to control the negative emotions roiling in our heart that too often spill out of our mouths, infecting life, hopes and dreams with the deadly poison of bitterness and resentment. However, when frustration is controlled and directed, it can accomplish a good work.
“…but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit Who was given to us.” Romans 5:3-5
What we do with our frustration leads us into stage four of the waiting process; decision and action; defiance and rebellion or trust and submission. Judas was one who decided to do something about his frustration with Jesus’ refusal to take advantage of His popularity with the people and lead Israel to overthrow the oppressive Roman government, showing off some of those spectacular miracles they all knew He was capable of.
After centuries of waiting for Messiah, Judas was convinced that Jesus could be the one to fulfill all his personal desires for significance, power and influence. He was done waiting, and decided that the best way to force Jesus’ hand was to sell Him out to the high priest and his cohorts. Surely the threat of a horrific death on a Roman cross would compel Jesus to do something so spectacular that the kingdom of God would be established in accordance with Judas’ agenda and timetable.
Never try to hustle, manipulate, or run some kind of racket or con on God to try to force Him to act. It will not end well. Ever! He is God. He does not exist to serve our agendas or abide by our timetables. He sees all and knows all. His purposes and plans cannot be thwarted.
“I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.” Job 42:2
And never decide to take matters into you own hands, all the while claiming to be following His instructions. Saul tried that and lost his kingdom (I Samuel 15:1-34), and Sarah managed to orchestrate thousands of years of Arab-Israeli conflict when she decided to help God out, (Genesis 16:1-15). There is only one wise decision to make in this stage of the waiting process:
“Commit you way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. He shall bring forth you righteousness as the light and your justice as the noonday. Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.” Psalm 37:5-7
Trust and patience usher in the final stage of the waiting process; fulfillment and realization of hopes and dreams. I came this close to naming my first daughter Thomas, in a grand, medication-induced gesture of overwhelming gratitude to the anesthesiologist who was finally able to give me an epidural after nineteen hours of hard labor! Shock, awe, relief and tears of joy often characterize stage five of the waiting process, and the decisions and actions of stage four determine whether we a jumping for joy or hanging our heads in shame.
Back in the doctors’ office, roaring lions became bleating lambs the minute the doctor walked in to take care of them, often leaving the front office staff to shake their heads in wonder at the transformation. In fact, I tend to cast a suspicious and skeptical eye at anyone who claims to enjoy or excel in the waiting process, but sooner or later we are guaranteed to find ourselves right there…waiting…for something to happen…or for someone to come.
So here’s the thing, whether we like it or not, the plans of God seldom come in a microwaveable container. But, waiting for ‘the fullness of time’ to come does not need to derail our faith, instead it can be a profitable and productive time of discipline, trust and ever-increasing faith, that is, if we choose to love God for Himself and not just for what He can do for us, and are willing to persevere in …just living the thing.