Do you find it hard to wait or do you draw on great reserves of patience?
I’m not very good at waiting. I can go from calm to impatient in a few nanoseconds, especially if I’m stuck in a sea of brake lights and stationary vehicles. Especially if I have to be somewhere, pronto!
It’s probably not unusual—life in a big city can be very stressful. But even when I’m not in a hurry, I hate sitting in traffic creeping forward a few millimetres at a time. The first alternative route I see, I take it. It might not save me any time at all, but at least I’ll be moving and not getting frustrated.
It doesn’t stop there, though. I remember as a mum with young children waiting for them to grow out of a particular stage, especially if I was not enjoying it. It pains me now to recall my impatience to move on to the next stage. I think I missed some of the fun and the joys as my kids grew and developed because my focus was too far ahead, too wrapped up in daily life.
The truth is, I’ve often given in to the frustration of waiting. Desperate for my life circumstances to change, I’ve fretted and fumed, longing for things to get better. When young, single and unemployed, I worried that my wait for Mr Right and my search for a job would never, ever end. I became so restless and discontent that, for years, I didn’t know any other way to be.
But life is full of waiting. We even have rooms for waiting. We wait for appointments to begin, classes to commence, travellers to return, numbers to be called, milestones to be reached, planes to land, wounds to heal, paint to dry, babies to be born, young drivers to come home, grass to grow, children to sleep, kettles to boil, suffering to end, races to finish, wedding days to arrive.
Whether trivial or crucial, every kind of waiting in life gets jumbled together. We wait for the kettle to boil so we can give tea and comfort to a friend whose suffering seems to have no end. We wait for a delayed flight so we can pick up that important wedding guest. We wait for paint to dry so we can host a happy milestone celebration. We wait for our weekly counselling appointment so that our broken hearts can mend.
But what makes waiting so difficult? Why do we struggle to wait patiently or even wait at all?
Waiting is hard because so often it involves uncertainty and a lack of control. Stuck in a traffic jam, I cannot be sure of getting to my destination on time, and if the car is low on fuel, there’s a chance I won’t get there at all. If you’re sick, it’s not always clear how long an illness will last or if you’ll ever recover. When we lack certainty or the power to influence a situation, we feel vulnerable and exposed, and that makes waiting hard.
Now, let’s be honest. Waiting can be very boring. Mind-numbingly so. The numbing thing is what happens to me in traffic, or when I run out of reading material after five and a half hours in a waiting room (true story). It seems we’re hardwired to make progress. We like to be active and doing rather than sitting around watching the seconds tick by. Especially if there’s a dentist’s chair at the end of the waiting.
However, it’s good to admit that sometimes waiting is hard because of us, because we can be self-centred or greedy or ungrateful. Sometimes waiting is hard because we don’t want to wait at all. We get impatient and grumpy. We might even start blaming other people for our plight or expect them to fix it, now! I know I have, to my shame.
Given my natural impatience, it’s somewhat mystifying then that two of my favourite people in the Bible are—unlike me—exceptional wait-ers. Only Luke mentions them and in just 14 verses of his gospel account. As he tells the story of Jesus’ dedication at the temple at eight days old, Luke introduces us to Simeon and Anna.
He tells us that Simeon had waited for the consolation of Israel and had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Lord’s Messiah before he died. And according to Luke, Anna, the prophet and widow, was very old and looked forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. She prayed, fasted and worshipped day and night in the temple.
In fact, both Simeon and Anna got old as they waited on God, expecting him to act, depending on him to act. But because they waited with such patient trust and faithful dedication, Simeon and Anna knew instantly who the infant Jesus really was when he arrived at the temple. They recognised in that tiny baby the One who was the Lord’s Messiah, for whom they had waited for so many years.
Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God for keeping his word: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-33).
And Anna came up to Mary, Joseph and Jesus, and gave thanks to God. Then she told everyone else who looked forward to the redemption of Jerusalem about the child she had met, whom she had recognised at first sight (Luke 2:38).
It gives me hope to remember that Simeon and Anna were old. They’d had years to learn the art of waiting. They’d had years to practice godliness amid the frustration, uncertainty, lack of control and sheer boredom of waiting. They’d had years to repent of any impatience or discontentment or self-centredness.
Simeon was righteous and devout, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. Anna never left the temple as she come before the Lord in prayerful worship. But it’s not only how they waited that mattered—it’s what they waited for that made all the difference. That’s what made them so distinctive, so exceptional. These old ones longed for God more than anything and looked forward to what he would do. They gave him their attention while they waited, and by his Spirit he worked in them, giving them eyes to see. Simeon and Anna were transformed by what, or rather who transfixed them.
They waited on God to fulfil his promises and trusted that he would keep his age-old word to his people. Their lives were centred around their belief that God would send his long-awaited Messiah to save Israel, to redeem Jerusalem and bring light to the Gentiles. They knew the fulfilment would bring pain and tumult, but they also knew that God’s plan would prevail. They believed it. They waited for it. They centred their lives around it.
As I reflect on the spiritual fruit that those years of waiting produced in them, it encourages me to keep working at this waiting game, to keep depending on God humbly and repentantly. It encourages me to shift my focus while I wait.
If I’m tempted to give in to anxiety or selfishness, I can look to my heavenly Father and trust in his sovereignty and love. I can wait with eager expectation for the outworking of his plan for the world. If I truly rest in him, it’s less likely that waiting will get the better of me.
I must remember that my heavenly Father is in charge. When I trust in him—not in a change of circumstances—he graciously grows the same spiritual fruit in me that I see in Simeon and Anna. I must remember that it’s not only how I wait that matters, but for what and for whom, and this makes all the difference. It helps me humbly to accept that an answer or change might never come this side of heaven. It helps me to wait, in hope, on God.
The apostle Paul says it so well in this wonderful passage from 2 Corinthians:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor 4:16-19).
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