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The Waiting Period: Time for Rest and Prayer

This week’s Adult Bible Study Guide, focuses on the Psalm that discusses waiting on the Lord. In Hebrew, the word “wait” ties to other words like: hope, expect, and waited patiently. And as most of us know, waiting can be hard, whether it’s due to circumstances out of our control or consequences from our decisions or others. 

In their book Ethnographies of Waiting: Doubt, Hope and Uncertainty, authors and professors at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark Manpreet K. Janeja and Andreas Bandak write about several aspects of waiting including perspectives from different cultures and people groups. The authors note that “hopeful waiting” entails action on the part of those who are waiting. To passively await someone else’s action can be excruciating. However, when those people become empowered to do something during the waiting period, even if it means additional time for a better result, their patience is rewarded with a better outcome. Janeja and Bandak write that when people combine their patience with action, it may result in more waiting, which fosters a kind of active patient endurance that can lead to the creation of something better. “Patience here is a . . .  stance that involves a shift in perspective from the immediate to the long term. It is better understood as an active engagement with or a ‘new experience of inhabiting time . . .”  

A few years ago, I went through some health issues due to chronic burnout. I was “working for the Lord” but killing myself while doing it. After seeing a doctor, they told me my adrenal glands were shot, so I took a sabbatical. Deep down I didn’t want to take that long break from work and a lot of that had to do with my ego. A question swirled around in my head, “who would take care of my work duties while I was gone? But I knew that if Jesus had to take time to rest, who was I to try to work harder than Him?

It’s almost comical how Adventists talk about the importance of the sabbath but have a hard time stopping long enough to experience it. We have the seventh day sabbath ingrained in our minds, but so many have lost the concept of what that day is all about: stopping, resting, saying no. During my sabbatical I withdrew to the mountains and lived in a cabin for a month, taking daily walks, stoking the fire in the woodstove, and making sure I had enough to eat. Somewhere in the distance, the world went on without me while I slowed down to heal.

Those first few days were tough. My mind and body kept spinning from the years of momentum I put them through. But slowly in the quiet up on the mountain, my body returned to a slower rhythm where the only important things were having firewood and eating food. Healing didn’t happen overnight. It took place over months of waiting for my adrenal glands to regulate, stress to ease, and my ego to die. 

Could it be that when we are waiting on God, He is waiting on us because He already gave us the answer? In his book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, physician-researcher Richard Swenson writes about how to slow down and create a space to wait, resulting in renewing our lives. This tactic requires carving out time of intentional waiting. Especially when the world and even the church around us goes at full speed. 

Authors Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Shane Claiborne add to the topic of waiting in their book Becoming the Answer to our Prayers. While examining famous prayers in the Bible, the pair write about how many Christians spend time waiting and praying when God already gave them the answer and asks us to get involved to be the answer. This doesn’t mean we should stop praying. Rather, we should join prayers with action, returning to prayer for guidance.

There is a kind of collective waiting we do when we think of people in difficult circumstances like those dealing with health issues, refugees fleeing a war-torn country, or dealing with loss in places like Gaza. This should spur us into action to do what we can to help put a stop to the suffering causing these people to wait for help.

Within the waiting period, perhaps we are the answer to someone’s prayer. Maybe there are times while we wait that we find answers to our problems. In the meantime, we all are waiting for Christ’s return to earth when all things are made new. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” 

About the author

Krystalynn Westbrook-Martin is the former vice principal for spiritual life at Auburn Adventist Academy. She has served as a minister, teacher, and administrator in the Seventh-day Adventist Church for over two decades. She is currently completing a PhD in Transformative Social Change, with an emphasis in Peace and Justice Studies. More from Krystalynn Westbrook-Martin.
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