Tag Archives: uncertainty

Waiting [The Grace of Waiting 2]

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In our world ‘waiting’ seems to be a dirty word, resisted, despised, judged. We have an addiction to things being fast. But there’s a lot of waiting in nature: seeds waiting to germinate, mothers waiting during pregnancy, hibernating bears waiting for spring. There’s also a lot of waiting in the bible: Noah and his family waiting for the waters to subside, Sarah waiting for a child, Jacob waiting for Rebecca’s hand, Jonah waiting in the whale, Joseph waiting in prison, Israel waiting 40 years in the desert, Jesus waiting 30 years before he was released into public ministry, the apostles waiting for pentecost. It seems in nature, waiting is often a time of inner total transformation, while there seems to be outward inactivity. In the bible it seems that seasons of waiting for people were the times in which they most deeply encountered who God truly is and grew in their trust of him and in their characters because of that. So if God seems to use waiting powerfully in nature and in the stories of the bible, why do we despise it so much and resist it with all our might?

This is the second post based on Sue Monk Kidd’s book ‘When the heart waits’. You can read the first here. Monk Kidd encourages us that when we feel we are in a season of uncertainty, where things are unresolved and even painful, instead of rushing to fix it, we often need to sit with the unresolved in stillness and wait. Not a passive waiting, but an attentive waiting, seeking to cooperate with what God is doing in the time of waiting. ‘The hidden potential and fullness of life is within me. My part is to wait in creative and expectant ways for it to unfold, attentive to the process.’ God invites us in the Psalms to ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ (Ps 46:10)

Graham Cooke talks about desert times, times when we feel weak and dependent on God. He says most people rush to get out of those ‘desert’ times but that can rob us of the opportunity to know God more deeply, trust him more and robs God of the opportunity to come through for us. In Hosea, God says to his people, “I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her… I will betroth you in faithfulness and you will know the Lord… they will say “You are my God.”‘ (Hosea 2:14, 20, 23). If we stay close to God through those times they can be times of inner transformation and growth in our faith and character.

It seems that without significant times to be still, we “extinguish the possibility of growth and walk backwards”.* It’s a paradox that we find hard to grasp, that we achieve our deepest progress standing still.

Sue Monk Kidd recounts a story that illustrates this point, a story of two caterpillars that I mentioned in the last post. Stripe and Yellow were caterpillars who, before spinning their cocoons, spent all their time climbing up a great column of squirming, pushing caterpillars. ‘The point seemed to be to reach the top. No one knew what was up there. They only hoped that the summit would offer them what they were looking for in life. But their existence was pretty frantic, with lots of rushing and straining. It boiled down to climb or be climbed. Finally disenchanted with crawling up, Stripe and Yellow became still. Soon they were at the bottom of the pile, free to spin the cocoons that would give them wings. To their delight, they found that wings were the only way to get to the top. Thus Stripe and Yellow made their deepest progress standing still.’ Her personal experience was that ‘being still and waiting in one place – going not forward by inward – is the sort of progress that really counts, the sort that gives us wings.’

I was told recently that before a caterpillar spins a chrysalis it sheds its skin and is vulnerable, before the hard shell forms around it. Sometimes going into a season of waiting can feel very vulnerable. We may experience criticism from people who want us to rush to fix the situation. We may be led into a season of waiting by pain or a crisis, by a stripping or loss of something that we depended on for meaning, purpose or significance. Although I strongly believe God does not bring pain or hardship to teach us things (that comes as a part of the broken world we are in, the evil that is present and people’s free choices that can be hurtful) he certainly can and does use ‘stormy’ times to invite us into transformation.

Monk Kidd suggests we can respond to crisis in three ways. We can say it’s God’s will and force ourselves into an outward acceptance, remaining unaffected on a deeper spirit level. Sometimes however there can be deep gnawing doubts about the character of God that we dare not articulate but can push us away from God. People who respond like this are generally after peace of mind and comfort, at least outwardly. Or we reject the crisis, fighting and railing against it until we become cynical and defeated or suffer a loss of faith. People who respond like that may be after justice. However, there is a third way to respond to crisis, which is the way of waiting. That means creating a painfully honest and contemplative connection with the deepest parts of ourselves and with God in the deep centre of our soul. People who choose this way are after wholeness and transformation. This is the way to find the ‘creative moment of epiphany within the crisis. You discover that the stormy experience can be an agent drawing you deeper into the kingdom, separating you from the old consciousness and the clamp of the ego.’ It’s not an easy way but it can lead to genuine transformation. It is the way to ‘come home’, returning to one’s deepest self, the soul, the original imprint of God within. Home to a deep sense of spiritual belonging.

Last year I certainly hit a painful time of uncertainty, where what gave me security and significance seemed to be stripped from me. I felt very weak and vulnerable, in a desert time if you wish. This book, the wisdom of friends and the presence of God with me on the journey enabled me to be patient with myself in the process, engage with my emotions and trust God that it wouldn’t last forever and that he was bringing transformation and growth through it, even if I didn’t see it at the time. But I can certainly see it looking back now.

Monk Kidd asks us, “How do we create the threads that hold us in the painful, uncertain, solitary darkness of waiting – and hold us not only in the waiting but through the waiting?” The next blog post will look at some of the ways she suggests we can wait in a constructive and attentive way.

*Counselor Helen Luke, quoted by Sue Monk Kidd

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The gentle invitation

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Dappled sunlight

falling on my arm,

gentle breeze,

a glimpse of the mountain,

through glowing branches.

Birds cheerfully chirping in the trees,

the sound of water splashing in a fountain,

sun shining through the vine leaves above me

highlight the firey edges of autumn.

The smell of coffee and baking.

Here, in my happy place,

I tell you how I feel,

I choose honesty

over a stiff upper lip.

As I give up certain foods

I realise how much I turned to them for comfort.

I realise I’m stiff necked and slow

to turn to you for that comfort.

As I return to South Africa

I miss family and friends in the UK.

More time alone.

I realise how quickly I turn to people for comfort.

You invite me gently not to rush to fix the aloneness

but to look to you to be my constant companion.

Feels hard

Easier to pick up the phone.

As things seem uncertain and unfamiliar,

my things in cardboard boxes

both sides of the world;

living in a friend’s spare room, not my home;

a new season, not yet fully defined;

in this place, you invite me gently to turn to you

with certain hope and anticipation

that you are my rock and my certainty.

You remind me that wherever I am,

I can be ‘at home in your love’.*

As I struggle to articulate my life

and comparison knocks loudly at the door,

again you gently invite me to turn to you

knowing my significance, value and meaning

is rooted in you alone,

not in what people think of me

or whether I’m doing things

that I or others define as ‘significant’.

You tell me your word is a light to my feet.

Not a search light to see the whole road ahead

but a flickering candle in a lantern

only enough light for the very next step

and that step was to return.

You invite me to place my hand in yours

and I know it’s true

(even when it doesn’t feel true)

that it is safer than a known way.

I guess it’s true you have more patience with me

than I have with myself.

For a short while I live in lack

and tears come

not recognising the person

standing close by my side

who can meet me in every place of need.

Who can be my everything.

* John 15:9 “Make yourselves at home in my love.”

Two options

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Excitement

Curiosity

Anticipation

or

Anxiety

Frustration

Hopelessness.

It’s my choice.

It doesn’t feel like it

but it is my choice.

Two options.

Two possible reactions.

To the same situation

of current unknowing.

A place of uncertainty

Not knowing what the future will hold

Things that seem stable shake

Many things unresolved

Many questions unanswered

Where will I be?

What will I do?

My natural reaction:

anxiety and frustration,

attempts to control and fix the situation into certainty.

But those reactions are based on the premise

that it’s my responsibility to resolve this.

To tie it down.

To bring security to myself.

But what if that premise is false?

Not suppressing my feelings

but challenging them to align

with what I know

and have experienced

to be true.

And taking time to receive that truth

in my heart as well as my head.

What if my premise changes?

What if the premise is that I stand on the only rock

and that rock is a person

who loves me

is trustworthy

knows the end from the beginning

is with me always, even through hard times

will bring good out of even what was meant for harm

who has good plans for me

that He will bring about.

Looking back

as I retell my own stories to myself,

my experience back that up

in remarkable ways in fact.

So then if that’s the premise,

maybe I can take my hands off

and wait.

Not passive waiting

but alert,

receptive to what He’s doing,

willing to participate and step out

when He prompts me to.

If that’s the case

maybe

just maybe

radical and illogical as it seems right now

I could wait

with excitement, curiosity and anticipation.

That feels profoundly different.

I wonder what He will do?

———————-

 

“The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures for ever.” Psalm 138:8

Path

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We each tread our own path

The terrain of which

Varies with the season of life

Sometimes varies daily

A rocky path

with crevasses and boulders

dangers at each turn

Requiring slow and careful steps.

A hand offered to steady us.

A tightly twisting path

can’t see round the corner

no idea what’s ahead

Requiring trust, one step at a time.

A hand offered to reassure us.

A path under construction

potholes to avoid

signs to heed

Requiring perseverance and teachability.

A hand offered to guide us.

A flat path

lined with trees

beside a stream

Requiring gratitude.

A hand offered to meet with us.

A crumbling path

impossible to tread alone

no strength to carry on

Requiring total surrender and dependence

A strong arm offered to carry us.

What’s the terrain of your life path like right now?

What heart attitude does it require from you?

What are you grateful for?

Can you see the hand of God beside you? What is he offering you?

Are you prepared to accept his companionship on this path?

 
Photograph: Hilary Murdoch – path up Lion’s Head, Cape Town.
 
All poems and original writing on this blog are Copyright © Hilary Murdoch 2013