The Great Wait

The always painful, never welcomed, gift of waiting

by Chris Clarke

I hate waiting. We all do. So, with Formula One like levels of speed and agility, we squeeze through impossibly small gaps to join the shortest queue at the supermarket … only to find the checkout assistant is a trainee, or the self-service kiosk has malfunctioned.

Have you also noticed how all the characters in the first two chapters of Luke – are waiting for something or someone – Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Anna and Simeon, the people waiting for a Messiah. And yet when the wait does end, only a few will notice.

2021 has been our great wait. At the start of the year, we thought we’d beaten COVID. While the world locked down, we were confidently planning events, booking trips and largely picking up where we left off in 2020. We were soon to learn that like building a sandcastle at low tide, no matter how much you reinforce the walls, you can’t prevent the incoming tide. The impacts of the ‘Delta tide’ have been felt well beyond the epicentre of Auckland as all our plans have been frustrated, schooling disrupted, and church doors closed. We still don’t know if we are nearing the end, or just the end of the beginning. Novelty and adrenalin sustained us through the first major lockdown of 2020, but this time lethargy and anxiety has predominated.

Our great wait is a global wait, for the end of COVID. We all echo, consciously or not, the great lament that stretches back to the times of Job “How long Lord?” But the Holy Spirit/Wairua Tapu is stirring. Our great risk is that in our desire for a return to normal we fail to read the signs, fail to heed the stirrings and instead we seek to ‘tame the Lion’ and thus we fail to notice God at work.

I have become a bit of a professional ‘wait-er’. Hopes and dreams disrupted and long times when I have felt ‘my boat’ has been parked up in the dry dock of life. So, what I am learning through the wait:

Waiting is the normal part of human experience. In the cosmic sense we are all caught up in the great wait that one day will end triumphantly when the old order of things will have passed away and like the Prodigal Son we will have returned home. We live Easter Saturday lives – somewhere between the horror of Good Friday when love seemed crushed and the joyous first light of Easter Sunday.

"This restless long, this chronic dissatisfaction, are actually signs of the mercy of God, who implanted within us a yearning that, through all our woundings, constantly call us home." - Susan Pitchford, Following Francis.

We think we wait on God, but He waits on us. I wait for God to do something, to notice me, to show me he really cares. But it is like looking through the wrong end of a telescope. I am waiting for God to do something. He is waiting for me to become that person he can use for his next great mission. Slowly I am realizing I have been formed more in the waiting than ever I have been formed in the front lines of service.

The things we wait for are often not what comes next - I have seen my waiting prayers answered, but they were not the prayers I prayed. I asked for a cup of water, for temporary relief, for something to satiate my thirst and yet the Lord answers with an overflowing cup, still waters and green pastures. I prayed for relief, instead he chose to restore my soul.

We live lives starved of our own company – we fill our lives with distractions, many of them worthy, but cumulatively they starve us of our own company. It is only when the distractions are forcibly removed that we are obliged to spend time with ourselves. It can be both the greatest of times and the worst of times. It has been through these times of forced solitary confinement that I have realized I am beloved, that indeed ‘it is through the cracks that the light gets in’. Forced time in my own company has become the best antidote I know to bouts of hubris and its companion self-doubt. Instead, I am left echoing the words of John Newton:

“I am not what I ought to be
I am not what I wish to be
I am not what I hope to be
But by the grace of God
I am not what I once was”

Our posture matters – Most did not notice the birth of Jesus – the single most defining moment in history. It took ‘foreigners’ to see the eastern star and to read the signs. Most did not see because they did not expect to see. Their quest for a return to normal blinded them to the super-normal. Those who saw were the attentive ones, who knew and believed their Scriptures, who continued their daily rhythms of prayer and worship, year after year after year.

Even though I know it is good for me, I still hate waiting. But slowly I am learning the gift of waiting. Wairua Tapu is stirring. My responsibility is to wait attentively. It is to resist the temptation to return to normal and instead to listen out once again for the cry of a newborn baby as Jesus enters our neighbourhood and I seek to be faithfully present in mine.

(Photo by Ümit Bulut on Unsplash)

Chris Clarke

Chris Clarke is the Executive Chair of Arrow NZ, providing organisational and strategic partnership development. He lives in Auckland, leads the Wilberforce Foundation, and has over 25 years of leadership experience both locally and globally in public policy, the health sector and in the not-for-profit world. Chris is married to Karen and they have two adult children.