Patience, we’re told, is a virtue. However, when we get down to it, I don’t know many people who actually feel that way. We’re a culture that demands the instantaneous. We want our food fast. We want our cars faster. We want our internet to be everywhere and able to stream everything. We want to get the news without delay, and we want to be able to get into contact with anyone—no matter what time zone or continent they live on.
As people who are conditioned to demand instant responses, we find ourselves deeply bothered by waiting. We’re bothered by stoplights that take too long, people who drive too slowly on the highway, and that annoying song we have to hear when we’re put on hold. Waiting is anathema to us.
While it’s amusing to think about all the ways people can and do annoy us, this attitude has very real repercussions in our spiritual lives. There are many of us who have spent our lives praying for someone or something. Maybe we have a painful or life-altering disability. Maybe we have a disease that is breaking us down. Maybe chemo has been ineffective, or maybe the heart transplant we’ve been praying for has stalled. As so often happens, maybe we’ve been praying for healing, and maybe that healing hasn’t come. Maybe we’ve been praying for direction in our life, be it a career or significant family decision. Maybe we watch as peers move on to bigger and better opportunities. Maybe friends are getting married, having kids, and getting the positions we have been hoping or praying for. And, in the midst of others’ celebrations, we’re left praying and waiting. In the presence of each of these weighty and heartbreaking questions, we find our own questions slipping out of our hearts and into the air. We’re asking, “God, where are you?”
The Bible is filled with the laments of God’s people suffering and asking aloud, “Where is God?”
“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (Psalm 13:1).
“May those who hope in you not be disgraced because of me” (Psalm 69:6).
“Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none” (Psalm 69:20).
Lament-filled waiting is a relentless and consistent theme in Scripture. The suffering of people, and their anger and confusion in the midst of it, is a well-documented experience for those who follow God. Present in each of these quoted verses is the Hebrew word קָוָה (qavah). This word’s definition is pretty straightforward: it means to wait or to look eagerly, to hope, to expect.
However, it has a deeper meaning too. While qavah does mean “to wait,” it also means “to collect, bind together.” The image is of a rope, through patience, being woven together of many separate cords. I really love how Alfons Novak said it: “[Qavah] means to wait with the notion of holding on strongly; and during the time becoming wound together with the object of the waiting.”
In those unanswered prayers, God is working. In our frustration, God is weaving. In our faithfulness—even reluctant faithfulness—God is crafting our hearts, deepening our roots, dusting out corners, and solidifying our foundations.
To be wound together with the object of the waiting. What a powerful declaration that flies in the face of how we traditionally think about waiting. We exist in a culture that believes if we’re not moving forward, we’re moving backward. To wait is to be lazy. To wait is to be irresponsible. And yet here we see that, in our faithful patience, we’re not existing in lazy deference. Rather, we’re submitting ourselves to an inner activity that is life-transforming. To wait is to be formed. To wait is to be woven.
When we wait, we’re making the fundamental declaration that nothing I can do will matter as much as waiting on the one who moves mountains. Nothing I can say will speak a deeper truth than the one who pierces hearts with a single word. Qavah—to be woven in our waiting—gives a whole different meaning to the moment when Jacob declares, “I look [wait] for your deliverance, Lord” (Genesis 49:18).
So many of us are waiting for the deliverance of God. We’re waiting for the miraculous, the fire-filled, and the transformative, and we find ourselves growing discontented when we do not see the fruits of those prayers. However, in our (often, protest-filled) waiting, may we be gently reminded that what we see is not always what is. In those unanswered prayers, God is working. In our frustration, God is weaving. In our faithfulness—even reluctant faithfulness—God is crafting our hearts, deepening our roots, dusting out corners, and solidifying our foundations.
No, waiting isn’t the absence of God. Waiting is the absence of self. It’s the renewal of Christ and the revelation of the kingdom in our midst. I’m reminded of Isaiah 40, when the prophet declares, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
As we pray, and as we wait—as we suffer—may we hope. And in these moments, may we always be challenged, as Diadochos of Photike so beautifully said: “always wait patiently, with faith made active by love.”
For God is at work, even—no, especially—in the waiting.