I Am Always Waiting
I must confess. I’m experiencing a terrible case of writer’s block with respect to my series, “Turning From a Different Gospel.” I’m sure it has to do with the fact that the situation I’m building up to writing about in this series has not yet reached full resolution. I’m still actively processing the meaning of and lessons from what has transpired over the past six years. It doesn’t help that I re-injured my knee pretty badly on September 15th and ended up having to have knee surgery last Wednesday. It also doesn’t help that my husband and I had to make the gut-wrenching decision to have our beloved 14-year-old dog euthanized this past Monday. But I decided this morning that I wanted to write something, so I did. Here’s a short essay reflecting on the experience of waiting.
I am always waiting.
In fact, there has never been a time when I haven’t been waiting for something.
When I was a helpless infant, I waited for things like food to be delivered into my mouth or the horrible diaper stuck to my bottom to be removed. My God, who did this to me while I slept?! As I grew older, I discovered different forms of waiting. There was the kind of waiting that was infused with endorphins – for example, anticipating the arrival of Santa Claus, my birthday, or the day of my friend’s pool party. Then there was the type of waiting that fell into the category of drudgery – the type I did at the bus stop, in the school cafeteria line, in clinic waiting rooms, and in the car while my mom did errands. And finally, there was the form of waiting that accompanied suffering and uncertainty, whose moments were filled with dread and any number of its emotional cousins: fear, anxiety, anger, helplessness, impatience, pain. These categories aren’t exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re ones that come to mind readily.
Today, it hit me that a lot of the waiting I’m doing right now falls into that last category. I’m waiting for some kind of breakthrough in a chronically heartbreaking and intractable situation, for particular people and organizations I can’t effectively influence (much less control) to do the right things, for pain and inflammation in my post-operative knee to subside, for writer’s block over my “Turning From Another Gospel” series to lift, for a particularly painful chapter in a ministry endeavor to close, for people I love to experience justice for the harms they’ve experienced, for grief over the recent death of our beloved family dog to become less intense, and for the innumerable difficulties generated by the pandemic to give way to better collective conditions. I feel every bit of the first half of Proverbs 13:12 – “Hope deferred makes the heart sick…”
I’m not easily swayed or uplifted by the multitude of therapeutic messages that come at me daily in the form of memes, podcasts, and self-help books. I’ve both tried enough things and walked through enough fires in my nearly half-century of life to know that most of those would-be therapeutic offerings are nothing more than superficial dressings devoid of any true wisdom or comfort. Though I have to say that the word art, sound production, animation, and visual images behind so many of them are top notch. People have really upped their game in the last year-and-a-half. Nevertheless, so much content is like a bandage that barely sticks and then falls off the moment reality even lightly blows in its direction.
There is, however, one thing I’ve become more convinced of with each passing day, even as these heartaches, unfulfilled longings, and seemingly unending waits persist. For those of us who believe Jesus Christ is Israel’s Messiah and the Savior of the world, ALL of the waiting we do is fully nested in the grand waiting for the return of Christ, the liberation of creation from its current bondage to decay, and the ushering in of new creation (heaven + earth), where God will finally and fully make his dwelling among humans.
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Romans 8:19-23
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:1-4
I didn’t/couldn’t grasp the grand scope or meaning of these passages in the scriptures when I was immersed in misguided theologies that defined salvation as not much more than going to a disembodied heaven after death. Now, when I read these passages as they are written, I see that there is a vast narrative from Genesis to Revelation that involves neither escape from creation nor the destruction of creation but the redemption of all creation – one that will include bodily resurrection, the eradication of evil, the transformation of all that we can and cannot see, and the defeat of death. That is where our grand hope is anchored.
The word eucatastrophe, coined by J.R.R. Tolkien, comes to mind here. Tolkien combined the Greek prefix eu, meaning good, to the word catastrophe as it was understood in the dramas of classical antiquity: the final resolution, or unraveling of all the mysteries and tensions. Eucatastrophe, then, refers to a sudden, joyful turn of events at the end of a story (in either cinema or literature) just as all seems lost. What makes it unique is that it’s built on the assumption that rescue is woven into the entire narrative from the very beginning. It’s not a cheap plot device that’s employed only after someone has haplessly painted themselves into a corner. Tolkien incorporated eucatastrophe in his storytelling because he recognized the God of the Bible as not only a specialist in eucatastrophe but also one who through the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection showed himself to be deeply, bodily, personally, and eternally committed to the rescue of humanity and all of his creation.
Writer and missionary doctor Eric McLaughlin wrote, “Tolkien said the incarnation of Jesus was the eucatastrophe of history, and the resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the incarnation.” And, as I previously wrote, Jesus’ return to fulfill his promise in Revelation 21:5, “I am making everything new,” will be the eucatastrophe of the death, pain, and suffering that we currently experience.
(cont’d) It will bring a sudden glimpse of previously unseen truth—that, all along, all things have been in the process of being restored. That means everything we do here and now, no matter how seemingly insignificant or futile, is being woven into that mighty arrival, that joyful rescue, that stunning renewal and resurrection.
I don’t like waiting, especially the kind I’m forced to do through long seasons of suffering and uncertainty. I’m not particularly good at it. Having to do it and keep on doing it has an effect on me that resembles what happens when you boil meat: it causes scum to rise to the surface. I do, however, like being in possession of a hope that is true, is based completely outside of myself and wholly unrelated to my limited abilities and capacity, and that’s GOD-sized. That’s the only kind of hope that can empower me to live and toil faithfully in the constant, unresolvable tensions of the difficult present.
So yes, I am always waiting, even waiting for waiting itself to end. But I wait with great hope.