This is part 3 of a reflection on Psalm 130. I'd recommend reading the psalm before reading this post.
To Be Restless Or Careless
We previously addressed one of the emotional states that tends to come with waiting — a restlessness that feels unquenchable. When we slow down enough to let God be God, we find we are restlessly in search of answers that we cannot provide outside of the presence of Jesus. We are faced with a path of further manic searching, satisfied with our perpetual dissatisfaction, or the difficult yet compassionately available path of slowly learning to rest in the God who will reveal what he must reveal when he must reveal it.
Another fear that comes up, on the other end of this spectrum, is that I can’t wait on God, because that means I’ll just be hopelessly resigned and careless. There’s a cliche in the church about “trusting God”. Usually when we say it, we mean we are completely checked out of the situation, disconnected, even hopeless. I’m more prone to neuroticism (which isn’t the better thing to do). A common critique of religious belief, especially Christian faith, is that people choose it because it is a good coping mechanism. It’s a good way to mitigate the pain of the world. And, if I look at a lot of church environments and trite statements used to console people in pain, I think this is a valid critique. I have often been guilty of minimizing pain or denying it in the name of my faith. But, if I look at the real person of Jesus, this critique doesn’t make much sense at all. Jesus operated with more hope than any other human being. He fulfilled the law (something we might call religious). Yet he experienced the depths of human pain and emotion. At the tomb of his friend Lazarus, he didn’t tell everybody to stop crying because he knew Lazarus would rise. He wept. His hope in resurrection did not make him less open to pain, but more open to and affected by it.
Jesus shared the belief that the most violent men in history have believed in believing that there was something terribly wrong with the world we live in, but his way of fixing it wasn’t to lash out. It was to give himself away in love. He wept because he hoped. He didn’t feel less pain. He endured the pain of the cross, bearing shame that is unimaginable. The hope of new creation doesn’t mitigate pain as much as it opens us up to really feel the depth of the tragedy it is that there is any pain at all. To “trust God” isn’t to be careless and hopeless. M Scott Peck, in The Road Less Traveled, said this: “If someone is determined to not risk pain, then such a person must do without many things: having children, getting married, the ecstasy of sex, the hope of ambition, friendship — all that makes life alive, meaningful and significant. Move out or grow in any dimension and pain as well as joy will be your reward. A full life will be full of pain. But the only alternative is not to live fully or not to live at all.”
His hope in resurrection did not make him less open to pain, but more open to and affected by it.
Harsh Criticism & Uncomfortable Love
When I first got into songwriting, I would numb my insecurities by just working on vocal takes and song demos until 1 or 2am during the week. Sure, I didn’t know what I was doing. But I was working out of a refusal to let my soul breathe, likely because I was afraid of what would come to the surface if I did stop working for a second. I kept hammering away under the guidance of the lie that says I will be better as I motivate myself by fear. How ridiculous is this? Yet we do it all the time. We think our abusive tone toward ourselves is what will better us. Where Paul says “the kindness of God leads us to repentance,” we think “the harsh criticism of man will lead me to improvement.”
All that to say, I’m afraid to wait on God. Whether it’s 5 minutes of prayer in the morning, or 10 years of unanswered prayer. I’m afraid that if I practice a posture of silence and receptivity, holding the depths of my soul before God without my own agenda getting in the way, I will end up lazy. And as I will likely say often on here, a system motivated by fear of evil is not a system that works for the renewal of creation. John was intentional in his words when he said perfect love casts out fear. Fear is antithetical to love. So, when I strive and strive and goad myself with fear and defenses against evil, rather than commitments to love, I am doomed to be exhausted. I am sure to find myself back on the path of the serpent’s lie, believing it’s better if I hold judgment on good and evil, rather than receive this wisdom from God during a walk with him in the cool of the day. But the biblical picture of waiting, embodied in Jesus himself, is not resignation, laziness, and definitely not hopelessness.
Waiting on God is a practice where we open ourselves up the Spirit’s ability to reform our belief systems and thought patterns. He reforms the pathways of our mind, making us like Jesus. Howard Thurman said of Jesus: “So close had he worked with God that the line of demarcation between his will and God’s will would fade and reappear, fade and reappear.” And if my math is right, productivity happens as we abandon ourselves to God and his will. Yet we oppose the waiting way of the watchman by fighting our fears with more of our own willpower, rather than slowing down to allow the line of demarcation between our will and God’s will fade and fade. We empty ourselves in silence and solitude, in seasons of waiting, in our recognition that if any answer is going to come, it’s going to be from God himself, not a product we bring to him.
I also find it painfully funny that the watchman has absolutely no power to make the sun rise. Nobody’s telling the watchman that’s his job. (Well, unless he’s in a pretty toxic work environment.) His job is not to make the sun rise. But, he isn’t jobless. He isn’t without any sense of responsibility (think of that word as response - ability). He isn’t resigned or lazy. His job is to be aware of the rising of the sun. Nobody’s more familiar with the rising of the sun than the watchman, yet I’m certain you know that no sunrise is a bore to look at. I could watch the sunrise every morning for the rest of my life and never see an identical one. In that prayer, where waiting for God is likened to waiting for the sunrise, I see that I’m not supposed to be lazy, but I’m also not supposed to fearfully defend myself against the potential of laziness. I take on the new priority of becoming aware of the morning, and therefore the night that precedes it. I learn the contours of the night, and I notice feeling of impatience as I know the only hope I have is outside of my ability to control. All of it is opportunity to practice, and be reshaped into the humility of Jesus, whose will wasn’t something he crafted out of restless strife, but something he received.
The Surprising Difficulty of Waiting
I think waiting is actually harder than defending against laziness. It’s pretty easy to fight back against empty space with more and more action. It’s difficult to slow down, recognize what’s in the depths of my soul, and then wait on a sunrise that I have no control over, but will slowly practice believing is coming. And it won’t look like I want it to or think it should, but it will be beautiful, even if it is shrouded by a cloudy sky. It will be beautiful because it will give me light to see and bring life to the earth.
Many theologians say the greatest miracle is the resurrection, and the second is the fact that Jesus stayed on the cross. Right before he was crucified, this story is recorded where one of the disciples cuts off a guy’s ear. He takes out a sword to defend Jesus from being wrongfully convicted. Matthew 26v52-53 tell the story:
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”
Jesus had an alarming amount of confidence that he could quite easily defend himself with legions of angels. It’s an absolute miracle that he stayed on the cross and waited. He cried out, he lamented, he felt unimaginable pain. He waited. He waited because he knew at a deeper level than his anguish that he lived in a world where it was completely safe to wait on his loving Father to bring about resurrection life. He knew that as he abandoned himself to the loving will of his Father, he’d find more life and the joy set before him. He invites me to know the same. He invites me to lament, to cry out, and to wait.
What is the sword I carry? When Jesus calls me to the patient acceptance of even a seemingly nonsensical death, like his journey to the cross, what is the sword I pull out to defend my old vision of God? I often notice this defensiveness in my body. Perhaps when I walk into a conversation where I might have to be vulnerable, I have a sword to defend myself. My shoulders tense up and raise. I try to defend myself more than I try to give myself and listen. This is survival. But our self-preservation isn’t a helpful tool in waiting on God. For as we slow down to remain in the love of God, we have to let our weapons and defenses fall. He makes them fall, of course. He guides us. He guides you and I to look at Jesus, who could’ve summoned angels to save him on the cross, but chose to wait, to allow the work of death and resurrection to play out, so that the kingdom he saw himself living in and bringing into existence could make itself known. And what a relief, that though we defend ourselves time and time again, this kingdom is, as is said in Daniel, “an everlasting kingdom,” unable to be hindered by our shortcomings.
As I practice waiting, again, whether for a short moment at midday in prayer, or as I grieve a loss for years, what I get used to isn’t laziness. It is an exchange of the responsibility for God that I thought I held for the responsibility of being attentive to the movements of the Spirit. I exchange my responsibility that leads me to restlessness for the responsibility that leads me to delight in the presence of God. I exchange my vision of what is worthwhile for the waiting on resurrection vision of Jesus.
It is perfectly responsible, not lazy, for me to put away the sword and stop defending myself because I’m afraid. It is perfectly responsible for me to stand before God, in the seemingly senseless pool of grief, emotional turmoil, restlessness, victory, joy, celebration, and whatever I am holding but do not know what to do with, and wait. For as I wait, I may be going the way of the cross. I may be going the way of putting into practice the belief that God is a shield around me. God is the One who lifts my head as psalmists say elsewhere. Though I may not necessarily have good feelings about it, I’m free to cry out in pain, God where are you? Why have you forsaken me? God can take the emotions. But I must let him take them. And I must do so in the waiting, where he is the One who speaks resurrection into existence.