My church recently started a new Saturday night service and yesterday I had the opportunity to speak (which sometimes feels like a privilege and other times just a burden). There were three of us invited to speak and we were asked to share about how we have encountered God in our lives recently.
(and if you were at the service on Saturday, my apologies, because this will be redundant and long winded and you might just want to just skim it)
Here is what I shared…honestly, vulnerably and nervously:
“I have been thinking about waiting. No one likes to wait. We are a people and culture who like things instantly, quickly and efficiently. Think: drive-throughs, microwaveable meals and how much most people despise waiting at red lights. Nothing about waiting is instant, quick, or efficient.
Waiting by definition is hard. It implies a longing or desire for something that has not yet been met. And it’s not just an unmet desire, but also the uncertainty that comes with it. It’s like a packaged deal or something- Waiting comes along and brings its accomplice, Uncertainty, and the two stand together forming a long, dark cave of the unknown.
And regardless of what season of life you’re in, the truth is we all wait. There are different types of waiting. Some people wait, longing to find a new job or sense of direction in life. Other people wait for physical healing or reconciliation with an old friend or estranged family member. And still other people wait and hope to be married one day and some wait hoping to conceive when they’ve had years of infertility. And I know some people wait and long for the day when they’ll wake up without feeling that deep ache and grief in their heart.
Sometimes I feel like we have a tendency to compare different people’s seasons of waiting. We listen to silly messages in our heads that say things like “oh what they’re waiting for is so much more important than what I am waiting for” or “His season of waiting is not nearly as hard as what she is waiting for.” But the truth is, I don’t think we can quantify and qualify waiting. We can’t compare. I am learning to name it for what it is…Waiting is hard, regardless of what you’re waiting for.
A few years ago, about a month before my 25th birthday, I distinctly remember when one of my students casually asked me in font of the class, “Hey, Ms. Acker when are ya gunna get married?” An innocent question really, but I was kept thinking, How the hell do I know? I gave some diplomatic teacher response and continued the lesson. But that question began to stir something inside of me. I realized that my mom was 25 when she got married. She was my age, but I was not anywhere close to being married. I wasn’t engaged or even dating anyone seriously. I started to feel like maybe there was something wrong with me. Maybe I needed to change? Maybe I was doing something wrong? Maybe I had missed some secret lesson that every other 25-year old married woman had learned? In my effort to figure it out, I confidently told God, I was ready. I didn’t want to wait. I wanted to get married.
Another year went by and all of that stirring inside left me with a lot of doubts and questions. It felt like most of my friends were engaged or married. I was in two of my best friends’ weddings and I went to nine other weddings in a period of ten months. I wanted nothing more than to be happy for my friends and their new spouses, but at every wedding these inconvenient feelings of envy and jealousy would creep up. I would quickly shove them back down where they belonged, but they didn’t stay where I wanted them to. Somehow even my most genuine sentiments to celebrate my newly married friends, simultaneously opened up this ache in my heart. I wondered if or when it would be my turn? I felt kind of forgotten by God. Like my life was on the back burner, while everyone else’s life was bubbling with excitement and newness. I felt like I was just sitting on the back of the stove, not even simmering, just sitting there; watching and waiting.
I struggled with feeling like the odd person out at social events and table arrangements that are conveniently designed for even numbers of people…which is just fine, except when you’re by yourself. And I am slightly embarrassed to admit this, but even harder than going to weddings alone or social gathering by myself was going to church week after week alone. Sometimes church can be a lonely place- and not just for single people, but for lots of people and probably for lots of different reasons. But all of this contributed to feeling left out and forgotten. This was not how I had expected my life to look. I asked a lot of questions, but I had no real answers. I had to sit with the feelings of sadness and loneliness—and just wait.
And perhaps the hardest part of this whole season was that I felt like I was “supposed” to be content and grateful, but the truth is that I was longing and hurting and waiting.
During this time a friend of mine gave me a book by Ben Patterson called Waiting. Well, obviously no one wants to read a book called waiting when you’re in a season of waiting. I pretended to read chapter 1 and then strategically hid the book on my bookshelf so she wouldn’t see it and ask me about it. Then about six months ago I picked it up again. Reluctantly, I began reading it, and soon I was soaking up every word and chapter. I was surprised that someone (or something) was naming feelings and thoughts and questions that I had not been able to name for myself.
In the book, one of my favorite parts is when Ben describes the story of Hagar from Genesis 16. The super condensed background story is that Abram and Sarai are on their own journey of waiting to conceive a child. They are getting up there in years so Abram decides to take matters into his own hands. He sleeps with Hagar, Sarai’s maidservant, and of course, she becomes pregnant. As expected Sarai is filled with jealousy because Hagar is now pregnant with the baby that she so dearly wanted to have. She begins to mistreat Hagar, so Hagar flees. She runs away. I can imagine this is not exactly the life Hagar had planned or expected for herself.
And this is the part I love.
Vs. 7 The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert…
God found her. She wasn’t looking for him. In fact quite the opposite; she was running away, she wanted to escape and hide and it says God found her! It reminds me that God finds us wherever we are, especially in the dry, lonely deserts of life.
And then he asked her two questions:
vs. 8 He said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
Those two questions get at something. It hit me all of the sudden. For the first time I realized that maybe in my season of waiting I have been asking the wrong questions. The first question God asks her, “Where have you come from?” is a call to look back, to reflect and to remember. How has God been faithful to me in the past? How has he provided for me? Sometimes when I am so in the present moment it is hard to look back and remember. And then the second question, “Where are you going?” is this invitation to dream and hope. It’s a reminder to look forward. To imagine and pray for the future.
The story continues, and God and Hagar begin to have this conversation. And at the end of their conversation:
vs. 13 She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her, “You are the God who sees me.”
You are the God who SEES ME- wow. He sees her, a slave and a woman, two characteristics that would have made her virtually invisible in that cultural context, and yet, God still sees her. He knows her and loves her. And that gives me hope. The God that I believe in is a God who sees me—
I will be 27 in a few days and in many ways I am still in this season of waiting. Nothing has drastically changed in my life circumstances during the past two or three years. In fact externally my life looks pretty similar, almost identical to how it looked a few years ago, but internally I feel like my heart and mind have been squished up, wrung out, turned over and pried opened up in a rare and painful way.
Every so often in my most broken or fragile moments I get a glimpse of this humility and hope that is emerging through the scattered pieces of my life and I am grateful. But there have been times when I did not have the energy or perspective to look back and remember or the desire to look forward and dream, all I could was try and hold onto the truth that God sees me, and he seems me just where I am. And I think, maybe that is an ok place to be.