I hate waiting. I choose my walking routes around downtown based not on where I am trying to get to but on which crossing signal is telling me to go. I have been known to take a longer way driving home just so I don’t have to wait at a red light. More often than not, what keeps me from stopping at the Bojangles near my house is not self-control but the line at the drive-through.
I may be a little neurotic, but when it comes to this particular neurosis, I’m not that different from most people. We are not very good at waiting, because we never have to. Our lives are designed to minimize waiting.
One of my favorite comedians has a standup routine where he talks about how impatient we are, particularly with our phones. Since we are used to having our phones in our pocket and any information at all right at our fingertips, we have become not only impatient, but angry.
This comedian points out that no one ever holds up their smart phone and says in wonder, “Look at what this can do!” Instead, we’re all growling at our phones all the time, muttering about how slow it is and how it drops our calls and how we HATE VERIZON.
The culture that teaches us that we should be able to pull up our Facebook app in 0.29 seconds is also the culture that teaches us that we can and should always get our way. Patience isn’t just about time and waiting; it’s about outcomes.
Margaret Thatcher once pronounced this gem of a quote: “I'm extraordinarily patient provided I get my own way in the end.” That, friends, is not patience. That is probably manipulation.
Psalm 27 asks us to look up from our phones, to stop insisting on our own way, and to get a little perspective. We grow angry and impatient when things don’t go our way. But the psalmist was writing in the midst of true hardship, even present danger. He was writing about evildoers devouring his flesh.
We are in the season of Lent, and Lent has a lot to do with waiting. It is the time before Easter, before the resurrection. It is the time when we wander in the wilderness like the Israelites did, like Jesus did.
And we have the benefit of foresight. We know that Easter is coming. But I like to think about that first Holy Saturday. Jesus was dead. The disciples were in disbelief. Their hopes had been shattered. They had no idea what was going to happen.
There is a song by contemporary Christian artists All Sons and Daughters that reflects on the first Holy Saturday. In it, the songwriters put themselves in the disciples’ shoes. The chorus goes like this: “All we had was a promise like a thread…all we knew was you said you’d come again.”
All they had was a promise. They had no proof, no plan, no way of knowing what exactly would happen. They had only an enigmatic promise, and they did not know what it meant.
And that’s the thing about hope. Hope has nothing to do with proof, or a plan, or a detailed explanation of what is to come. Hope is faith in a promise.
Romans 8 says, “For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
Who hopes for what is seen? If you see something, if it has already come to be, then hope is irrelevant. We hope for what we do not see. We hope for what is promised. We hope, even if we don’t know what it means.
The weekend before last, author Glennon Doyle Melton was here in this room leading a women’s retreat. I got to share conversation with her as part of the program, and we talked about our first focus song tonight. Martha and I had selected it as part of the music for the day, and as it turned out, Glennon had a deep connection to the song.
You see, the summer before, Glennon’s marriage had fallen apart. She and her husband separated, and it wasn’t clear what was going to happen. But her husband told her that he would wait for her, and every morning he played that song, “I Will Wait.”
Glennon pointed out the words to the bridge of the song: “Raise my hands; paint my spirit gold; bow my head; keep my heart slow.” She paused, and then she said, “I don’t know what the hell that means, but I know it’s true.”
When we are faced with difficulties, we want to know what it all means. We want to know the reason. But sometimes, when we are offered hope, we don’t know what it means, but we know it’s true. Perhaps that’s how the disciples felt on that first Holy Saturday.
One of the slogans Glennon uses on her website is this: “We Can Do Hard Things Together.” I asked her what happens when the person with whom you are supposed to be able to do hard things betrays you.
Glennon’s answer was very important. The person with whom I can do hard things is not my husband, she said. It is God.
We are made for relationship with one another, but those relationships alone cannot sustain us, because people are imperfect. No person can be everything that you need. No person can wait for you with perfect patience.
But in God, we find everything that we need. We find the one being who never changes, who never breaks a promise, who never gives up on us. In God, we find the only one who will wait for us with perfect patience.
And God isn’t sitting there, arms folded, glaring sternly at us with a look on his face that says, “Explain yourself, young lady.” In the parable of the prodigal son, the father waits for his wayward son to return. But when he sees him coming, he does not prepare a reprimand. Instead, his heart goes out to him.
God waits for us, and God’s heart is forever going out to us.
We wait for what we do not see. But God waits for what God sees, because God’s vision is so much bigger and deeper and truer than ours. God sees us at our best and our worst, and God waits for us.
And part of the promise is that we, too, can be given a new vision. The Psalmist says, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” I don’t know what that means, but I know it’s true.
“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
God waits for us, and God’s heart is forever going out to us. We don’t have to know what it means. We just know it’s true. Amen.
Sarah S. Howell