Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
I do not like to wait. Period. End of story.
There’s no caveat, no qualification, no re-framing. I absolutely loathe waiting. I will reluctantly concede, however, that waiting is necessary. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
And yet, there is much waiting in life. You’d think I’d come to peace with that, but oh no.
I remember waiting impatiently for my father to pick me up from daycare when I was small. I would watch from the corner of the playground each afternoon, anxious to see his gray Volkswagen pull in the drive.
As an older child, I waited for school to begin in August and for school to end in June. I waited for the ice cream truck to arrive in the neighborhood. I waited for my friend to come over to play. I waited for my sister to come back from college. I waited to become a teenager, a college student, an adult.
I’ve waited for transitions to end, for college acceptance letters to arrive, and for the pain of a break-up to subside. I’ve waited for jobs to end, job offers to be given, and for jobs to begin.
Over the years I have sought to mitigate my waiting by being as effective or efficient as I could. “Perhaps,” I’ve often mused, “if I arrange my life by doing this or by doing that, I won’t have to wait as long as I might otherwise.” And sometimes, sometimes, this approach has worked. More often than not, though, my tinkering with things only complicates and prolongs the wait.
As much as I’ve tried, I’ve learned that you cannot completely escape waiting. You cannot avoid waiting, because life is waiting. I know this because I’ve found myself waiting alongside you. Much of my prayers and my pastoral care for you has centered on a season of waiting in your life.
You have waited for test results.
You have waited for the doctor to arrive.
You have waited for surgery, for the new treatment, for the all-clear from the lab tech.
We wait for that phone call, that email, that text message, that conversation. Wait, wait, wait.
You have waited for a job change. You have waited for your spouse to get well. You have waited for your adult child to come home, and for the real estate agent to call with good news. You have waited for new election cycles. You have waited for a loved one to say yes to your proposals. You have waited for your pain to ease.
You have waited for the effects of the stroke to dissipate. You have waited for your sister to admit her addictions and to get help. You have waited for your husband to die.
The term ‘waiting’ doesn’t capture how excruciating this experience is. The word, ‘vigil,’ however, does. The root of this word points to being ‘awake’ and connotes a period of staying up in prayer…waiting. Anticipating. Yearning.
Waiting is central to the story of our faith, and to the story of God’s people. The writer of Hebrews tries to capture some of this, but in truth, it offers but a snapshot of a greater epic of people who have waited.
Abraham waits for the covenant to be fulfilled. Sarah waits for a child to be born. So does Hannah, and so does Elizabeth. Joseph waits for reconciliation and redemption. The Hebrews wait for liberation. The Israelites wait for the Promised Land. They wait for effective leaders and for prophets and for hope.
King Saul waits for his end to arrive. David, the shepherd boy, waits for the fulfillment of his anointing. In time, he awaits justice. He awaits God’s forgiveness. He awaits the consequences of his actions.
Israel waits. And waits. And waits. They fearfully wait for His prophecies to come true. They forlornly wait for the Exile to end. They wait for the arrival of God’s promised one. They wait for Elijah to return.
Jesus waited. He waited for his time to arrive as an adult to step in to His prophetic role and ministry. He waited for the right time to visit his friends, Mary and Martha, when their brother Lazarus died. Jesus waited in Gethsemane. Jesus waited for his death to arrive. Jesus waited in the grave.
The early church waited for the Holy Spirit. They waited in hiding. They waited in prison. They waited for God’s Kingdom to come.
To live, therefore, is to wait. To be a person of faith, then, is to wait. What gets us through our waiting, our vigils, our yearnings, is faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Faith is the confidence we have while we wait. And faith, I need not remind you, is hard, hard work.
I am grateful, therefore, that as a people of faith, we do not have to wait alone. Faith is hard enough. Trying to have faith in isolation, however, is a terrible and lonely path. When we are alone in our vigils, the devil plays with our minds and with our imaginations. It is so easy to lose faith when doubt and despair are articulated in the myriad of possibilities that we can imagine. But if we have others to wait with, then, maybe we have a better shot of keeping the faith.
Jesus sure thought so. Do you remember his vigil? That night when he awaited the guards, the trial, the pain, his own death? He didn’t want to wait alone. He begged his friends to wait with Him, but they could not stay awake to help him get through the interminable waiting.
No, it doesn’t always turn out the way in which we had hoped and in the ways in which we had prayed. Jesus, and his vigil are evidence of that. But that’s not the end of the story. Jesus’s suffering and death are redeemed in his resurrection. God’s ultimate hope wins the day.
And I believe that God’s ultimate hope will win the day for you and for me, also. I absolutely believe that what God has started, He will see through to completion. I believe that God will fulfill His promises. True, our short-term, near-term, immediate hopes often fail us. And we should rightly mourn these moments and pray that these seasons are brief. Our ultimate hope in God’s provisions, however, is not in jeopardy. These hopes have simply not been realized.
So, in the mean-time, while we wait, it’s good to know we don’t have to wait alone.