I was chatting with a friend recently, who was anticipating a long journey with children. We talked about the expectation of that familiar question, the irritation that it might provoke, and strategies for making the journey less wearisome for all.
When I am waiting, I want to know how long it is likely to be for. Sometimes, this is because there may be an alternative. Or perhaps because there is the possibility of doing something while I am waiting.Surely the hardest waiting of all is when we have no idea of how long the wait will be for. We want to know.
Psalm 13 is the prayer of someone who is weary of waiting. They are in distress, and the protraction of it is getting harder and harder to bear. And so rather like the children in the back seat, they ask with persistence and perhaps impertinence:
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
The repetition is perhaps shocking in its brazen approach to God. This is exactly the kind of plaintive question that makes the people in the front seats ask the same questions with increasing vexation!
I know that I want to know ‘How long’ when I am waiting, and the more so, the more I am uncomfortable, distressed, troubled, in pain. I naturally want to ask, even if it’s rhetorically, into the thin air. And so I have sympathy for those who ask the same question.
God knows this too. Does the presence of this psalm in the Bible perhaps indicate that God can tolerate our need to know? That God knows that we need to ask, and has given us the words with which to do so.
In which case, where the psalm leads to is all the more significant. Like so many psalms of lament, it takes the needs seriously, but doesn’t stay there. It shifts the focus, from waiting to hoping.
But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
I can remember more than one long, tedious and even painful wait being transformed by someone who lifted my perspective. ‘Let’s sing a song!’ Not in a trite manner, as if the pain of waiting were not real, but with real compassion, acknowledging the reality, but refusing to allow it to engulf us.
In the ache of our waiting, God is still there and God is still good. Yet the interminable discomfort threatens to so fully absorb our mind that all else gets displaced. God knows this, and knows that we need to ask ‘How long?’ even if there is not an answer. God gives us the means, not only to do this, but also to find our perspective shifted ever so gently, and to be re-focussed on the hope of knowing God’s love that is steadfast.
What do you do when you are waiting? Whatever it is, let it include asking God ‘How long?’
This is part of the synchroblog on waiting, to celebrate the release of Those Who Wait: Finding God in Disappointment, Doubt and Delay by Tanya Marlow – out now. See more here and link up to the synchroblog here.