The comedian George Burns once said, “I can’t die. I’m booked.” This is how I have often felt. Much of life has been a running schedule. Each day a checklist manifesto to live by. I like order, and I love checking off boxes. I hate wasting time, let alone other people’s time. But now I am on the other side of pastoring and professoring and writing—at least for the moment. For the first time, my schedule has blank pages. And I am okay with this. Sort of.
I am counting on God to fill the void—protect me from floundering, devolving into a life of puttering, running errands, or doing whatever happens to come along. It’s just in my wiring.
After writing some 7-8 hours a day for the past twenty-four months and getting my edits off to the publisher, I woke up the next morning with no to-do list. I alerted my wife that I could be even more difficult to live with. I am adjusting to free time, but don’t assume I am free. I still have my schedule—up at 5:30 am and in bed by 9:00 pm. I cannot afford for Heather—or anyone else—to think my day isn’t full. This would leave me vulnerable to someone else’s list.
Perhaps you are in a similar transition. It might be you find yourself like Isaiah saying, “Here I am Lord, send me.” Like him, like me, you also find yourself in waiting, which is not easy. At least for me. I resonate with Ben Patterson and the first sentence in his book, appropriately titled, Waiting. He writes, “I hate to wait. My image of hell is an eternity of standing in line, waiting in the lobby of some Kafkaesque (i.e. nightmarish) bureaucracy.” Like him, when I am in a long queue, or sitting in traffic on I-84, or waiting for a certain reply, my teeth clench, my blood pressure rises, and my eyes narrow. It is worse than hell.
Maybe it is good that I am reading Job at present. I find that I’m not alone; Job is waiting, but his trajectory scares me. At first, he seemed to be coping. He saw his losses as part of life, With calm and trust, he told his world, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” But the days turned to weeks, the weeks to months, and over time Job’s calm and collected faith gave way to a demanding spirit. This could be me.
It’s hard to find anyone in Scripture who hasn’t had to wait. Noah, like most Oregonians in early April, must have looked out from the Ark and shouted, “When will this rain stop?” If I was Abraham, I would have fallen in a narcoleptic coma, waiting for the pregnancy test to come back positive. Moses was assigned forty years in the desert, only to get the news he would spend the next forty years in the same wilderness with a crowd of bellyachers, bitching and bleating. There must have been moments he looked so beaten down he was on verge of vanishing. The psalms reveal David to be a man pushed to the edge in his long wait to become king. One could go on with examples—Hannah, Anna…does anyone get a pass? No!
In the midst of a long Dutch winter, I remember a morning I rolled down my window and screamed, “I hate Holland!” Waiting can make one lose their mind. But everyone who has anything to do with God waits—and hopes. And when hopes are deferred, the heart becomes sick (Prov 13:12). As I shared Sunday in a sermon, doubts can creep in, and demands suddenly ramp up. But as Patterson concludes in his book, we have no demands to make or rights to assert. God is not in our checklist—we are in his. And in his work, what we become as we wait is as important as what we wait for.
So what am I becoming? Perhaps—I hope—a person at peace with wherever God wants to take me next. And it may be no further than the front door. No further than the kitchen where Heather might say, “Can you get this for me?” No further than dinner with my daughter Kate or a day at the beach with Nate.
Waiting also has a way of forcing me to be more attuned to the world in which I live. It’s easy to find some escape in the wilderness, but right now I have to allow the images to confront me. The dreadful pictures of people in Afghanistan, whose waiting in line is a matter of life and death. The images, the stories of what people are facing in Beirut, where a nation seems to be on the verge of collapse. Or stories from medical personnel in hospitals in Portland, and how caregiving is driving them to the brink.
All of these have a way of moving me off myself. I begin to realize my day is actually booked, with listening more carefully to what God is saying and doing, praying more deeply for those who are suffering, and searching more intently for what God is asking of me at this moment.