October 2, 2022

How Shall We Wait?

Here is a helpful take on waiting that is anchored in the love of Jesus.

Gaspar Colón

We all have experienced waiting. We are placed on hold when we make phone calls. We wait for trains, planes, buses, doctors’ visits, the birth of a child, the arrival of guests, and many other things. Much of our waiting is done with the assurance that what we are waiting for is sure to happen, even if there are slight delays. We eagerly anticipate what we wait for. 

As Adventists we live, preach, and teach the Advent hope of Jesus’ return. We encourage each other with Jesus’ exhortations to wait in readiness because we trust His Word (Matt. 24:36, 44). He entreats His followers to wait faithfully and peacefully (verses 45-51). He further challenges us to prepare ourselves to fuel up so we can shine while we wait (Matt. 25:1-13). Jesus urges us to multiply the resources that God places in our hands (verses 14-30) and invest ourselves in care for the needs of “the least of these” (verses 31-45), just as He did while on earth. 

Waiting Amid Uncertainty

During this cosmic anticipation of Jesus’ second coming, we experience different kinds of waiting. Life is filled with uncertainty and worries about the future. A mindset in dealing with things that remain outside our control is key to coping with life’s uncertainties. Uncertainty is all around us, never more so than today. Whether it concerns a global pandemic, the economy, or our finances, health, and relationships, much of what lies ahead in our daily life remains uncertain. In our quest for security we want to feel safe and have a sense of control over our lives and well-being. Fear and uncertainty can leave us feeling stressed, anxious, and powerless over the direction of our lives. It can drain us emotionally and trap us in a downward spiral of endless “what ifs” and worst-case scenarios. 

We’re all different in how much uncertainty we can tolerate in life. Some people seem to enjoy taking risks and living unpredictable lives, while others find the randomness of life deeply distressing. But all of us have a limit. If we feel overwhelmed by uncertainty and worry, it’s important to know that we are not alone. And no matter how helpless and hopeless we feel, there are concepts that we can incorporate into our thinking to deal with our circumstances, alleviate our anxiety, and face the unknown with more confidence. 

The Art of Waiting

God has provided us with precious promises in His Word. As we wait in times of uncertainty we are called to lift our eyes beyond ourselves to the One who longs to give us His strength and provide us with what we need to keep hope alive. “Ask, and it will be given to you,” Jesus invites us. “Seek, and you will find; knock, and [the door] will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7, 8). This asking calls us to faith (cf. Mark 11:24). Believing that what God offers in His promises is real results in gratitude and calls for an expression of thanksgiving. 

Waiting in the context of uncertainty can often lead to “paralysis of analysis.” We rehearse every little hint that might lead to a revelation of why things are happening and get trapped into focusing on the problem. This may lead us away from a healthier focus on envisioning new possibilities, new directions, which God wants to open for us. 

Jesus’ encounter with the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-14) offers us a good example. The man had been an invalid for 38 years, waiting for a long time to be the first to get into the water when it stirred. Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?” Instead of answering the question, the man tells Jesus that others always get into the water before him. The man should have simply answered, “Yes!” but he was suffering from a condition that many of us have while we wait amid uncertainty. He suffered from a spirit of victimization. It’s easy to view ourselves as victims of circumstance or consequence. When we see ourselves as victims, we lose sight of the victorious life that God longs to give us (2 Cor. 4:8-18). 

While waiting in times of uncertainty, we can fall into the trap of spending our time and energy on finding something or someone to blame for our circumstances. We search for real or imagined data that will explain who, what, when, where, and how this has all happened. This may help to clarify some lessons to be learned from the past, but getting stuck playing the blame game impedes our ability to simply acknowledge where we are and creatively look beyond our circumstances to doors that God is opening to lead us beyond our current state. 

In our moments of waiting, we can remember Ellen White’s counsel: “In reviewing our past history, having traveled over every step of advance to our present standing, I can say, Praise God! As I see what the Lord has wrought, I am filled with astonishment, and with confidence in Christ as leader. We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.”* As we remember God’s past leading, we suddenly can see beyond the tunnel of uncertainty and recognize God’s ever-present care for us. 

Waiting Amid Anticipated and Unanticipated Loss

Waiting can become more emotionally intense when we face anticipated loss. Its context can include the anticipated loss of a job, or the changing roles and identity that accompanies retirement, or the blow resulting from divorce proceedings, or the sudden diagnosis of a debilitating or fatal illness, or the imminent loss of a loved one. Regardless of the context, we are left in a whirlwind of unanswered questions, imagined outcomes, multiplicity of suggested solutions, disorientation, disbelief, anger, aloneness, and intensifying grief. 

To cope with all this uncertainty, many of us worry. Worrying can make us feel like we have some control over uncertain circumstances. We may believe that it will help us find a solution to our problems or prepare us for the worst. Maybe if we just agonize over a problem long enough, just think through every possibility, or read every opinion online, we’ll find a solution and be able to control the outcome. Unfortunately, none of this works. Chronic worrying can’t give us more control over uncontrollable events; it just robs us of enjoyment in the present, saps our energy, and keeps us up at night. But there are healthier ways to cope with uncertainty—and that begins with adjusting our mindset. 

Loss of control or comfort are a natural and unavoidable part of life. Very little about our lives is constant or totally certain, and while we have control over many things, we can’t control everything that happens to us. As Christians we worship a God who has promised to accompany us through uncertain paths (see Deut. 31:8 and Matt. 28:18-20). Whether confronted by anticipated or unanticipated loss while we wait, remember with the apostle Paul that the path forward is made bearable by the fact that regardless of the seemingly unbearable circumstances that we are in, “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17, NIV).

* Ellen G. White, Life Sketches of Ellen G. White (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1915), p. 196.