The roller coaster of hoping and lamenting in times of waiting can really be exhausting. I deeply do not prefer waiting for God to open His hand to give me good things that I desire. In my current season, I am waiting on the Lord for a second child. I want to be hopeful and pray expectantly. But my hopes often seem to get too high, which I only realize when they crash down around me. If I’m being honest I am so tempted toward apathy during seasons of waiting. I want to avoid the whole emotional ordeal altogether.
Though our circumstances can look different, we all wait on good things that we can’t always be sure God will give us: a baby, a job, a longed-for relationship, a break from a really difficult season. A big part of what we long for is to know what comes next. We badly want to know where we are going so that we can trust in where we are now. The hard thing about waiting is that God doesn’t promise us we will have all the things we want, or tell us what is coming. His Word, though, assures us he does know what’s ahead, promises that it will be for our good, and he will care for us along the way (Deut 31:6; Rom 8:28; Mt 28:20). He also tells us that faith in his sovereign goodness should be enough to calm our fears (Mt 10:29-31). But sometimes we wait a very long time for really deep longings, floundering through dynamically heart-breaking seasons of waiting.
So how do we wait in faith for the good things we desire that the Lord hasn’t promised to give? How do we suffer in faith even as our hope deferred makes our hearts sick?
We learn to discipline our minds.
To wait well for things we can’t be sure will ever come, we must discipline our minds from dwelling solely on our desires, or we might just end up worshiping them instead of God. My sister-in-law graduates from a doctoral program this spring and will be matched somewhere beyond her control. She also has a long-term, long-distance boyfriend she'd like to be reunited with in the same city. While it's definitely helpful for her to take action to plan her steps for her future, if she dwells only on the endless imagined scenarios of where she might be and how all those moving pieces might look, her emotions will mostly likely stay on that roller coaster until she feels dizzy enough to choose fear or anxiety instead.
To find protection from our fears while waiting, we need to reroute our focus onto God, spending time in prayer, dwelling on He who is true, noble, right and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8). We are more likely to find ourselves worshiping God instead of our desires when we contemplate He who is perfectly worthy of our trust and worship . . . then ask him for the things we desire in humility and faith.
We rest in His nature.
Philippians 4:8 is telling us to dwell on something better than the things we want: God’s profoundly good and astoundingly incomprehensible nature. Spending time meditating on the attributes of God creates a confident awe in the Creator, and puts all other focuses in the proper perspective. When we set our thoughts on his unchanging nature, our affections follow, taking us off of the roller coaster ride that exhausts us. Even as the waiting persists, to practice resting in God’s nature will offer a deep sense of security. From the grace of his presence and the mercy of his comfort, we are better equipped to suffer by faith even as we wait.
We cry out our grievances.
I'm not the only one tempted to ignore my feelings when I suffer through seasons of waiting. Who wants to feel pain? But God tells us that through our sufferings he is perfecting us (Jas 1: 2-4). So to participate in that work, we need to be engaging with him by faith, not apathetically withdrawing from him in unbelief. God hasn’t designed us to grow from apathy, but from receiving and applying the faith he provides. The good news is, he is a loving, relational Father who not only allows, but also invites us to cry out to him in our pain and bewilderment. God shows us in his Word that we can approach him, with humility, but also with honesty about our grievances as we suffer. So the unmarried person who feels forgotten by God, as what seems like every friend has married off, can cry to God and tell him that. And in doing so, find comfort in his compassion and understanding, even when the circumstance stays the same.
We hope in his perfection.
While meditating on God’s nature brings us faith in his presence as we wait, hoping in his perfection brings trust in his plans. If we can trust him, we can be genuinely open (and maybe even over time, joyful) to adapt to his perfect will in areas where his plans may differ from our desires. As I encounter challenges in waiting for a second child, I can consider that perhaps God is calling us to adopt. As I contemplate God’s faithfulness and perfection, I am provided a sense of beauty and trust in his plan, rather than dread and despair at a potential deviation from my own. When we hope in his perfections, we find security for the future that undergirds our ability to endure the present by faith and even, with joy.
Waiting is hard. But in his wisdom, God allows it. The pain of waiting may never go away until heaven. No matter how we want to avoid suffering in life, the truth is, we just can't. But in our suffering, we get to find comfort and assurance in the perfect, sovereign and good Father who reigns over our trials and does not withhold good things from his people . . . even as we wait (Ps 84:11; Mt 7:11).
Dorsey Swindall is a biblical counselor with One-Eighty Counseling and Education in Louisville, Kentucky. She and her husband have two children.