Sitting still in my car at a stop light, I begin to nervously tap my fingers on the steering wheel, waiting for this interminable light to change. This moment is just one of thousands upon thousands of moments of waiting that run like a slender thread throughout the course of life.
Why do I find waiting intolerable? Compared to just thirty, or even twenty years ago, I can get where I need to be faster, find information in seconds, be guided to my destination without looking at a map, drive through to get coffee or prescriptions, automatically pay bills so I rarely enter a bank or sit down to mail out checks.
So why this impatience with the mundane details of living?
My observations tell me I am not alone in this. I have witnessed some bizarre, irrational, and at times abusive behaviors by adults in airports, in traffic, and in checkout lines who thought things were going too slow.
Maybe if I could stop in those times and reflect on another type of waiting we all encounter, I would gain patience.
Waiting Can Hurt
This other type of waiting lies well below surface irritations, touching us deep within our core being. It is an existential waiting that often calls out from us the very question of life itself.
Our English language does not have a single word to describe this type of waiting, but the Hebrew language does. It is ‘Yachal’, a word that combines the concepts of hope with waiting. It is often used to connote a yearning so intense it causes one to ache inside.
I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched; My eyes fail while I wait (yachal) for my God. (Psalm 69:3)
I know this level of waiting.
In the autumn of 1999 I sat cross-legged on a bean bag, the only furniture in this tiny dump of an apartment. As I stared mindlessly at a trash can in the corner, spilling over with empty Old Milwaukee beer cans, I wondered how my life got to this point. I felt that deep ‘yachal ’ rising up from the center of my belly, pouring out my mouth as a cry for a better life.
I reached out for my bible—it felt like a long lost friend. I opened to the Psalms—I knew that in the Psalms I would find something about trouble, and pain, and loss, and hope, for David was a passionate man swinging through life between the poles of distraught and joy.
I opened to Psalm 24 and read; “I still believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait (yachal) for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!”
For the next thirty-six months I held on to this tiny verse as if it were oxygen—all through treatment, a stint in a recovery house, a move across the country, re-establishing my career, and throughout the full and joyful reconciliation with my family.
This waiting is the waiting for the call from your doctor with the biopsy results. This is the waiting for that job offer after months of searching. It is the waiting to find that loving partner you can spend your life with. Or the couple waiting to find out if they will be parents.
It is the waiting for your adult children to find their own path of fulfillment and happiness. It is the waiting of a middle-aged couple to re-discover their lost love and passion for each other.
Or, like the father of the prodigal son, it is the waiting for our lost children to come to their senses and turn back towards home—and while they are a long way off, we run to them and welcome them back.
This type of waiting is not a passive whiling away the days. It is deep, difficult work. It is getting up off your bean-bag and going to work, or going to school, caring for your children, while all the time the thing you wait for is beyond your own ability to make happen. You just go on, moving through life with that tiny little flicker of hope that singes your insides, and while you are working, you are loving, living, and waiting.
A hidden but vital element of this level of waiting in hope is trust— a re-occurring theme of all of these reflections. For how can one wait in hope if we do not have at minimum a certain suspicion that there is a loving, caring God interested in our life?
No matter how lost, hidden, or covered up that trust is, it can be revived. Life has a way of awakening trust that has gone cold.
Advent is a special season of yachal—of waiting in hope. The Jewish nation in the first century was occupied and oppressed by the Roman army.They yearned for freedom, for a champion to emerge. The coming of Yeshua (rescuer – a derivative of the word yachal) was promised, and the nation pined after it.
We are all waiting for something–something more, even if we cannot sometimes articulate what it is. Like a single star from the East that our inner yearning bids us follow, we are all waiting in hope for a better life for ourselves, our loved ones, and our world.
So, what are YOU waiting for? The fact that it hurts to wait, that you feel that ache inside, is evidence itself that the candle yet burns, that there is hope, and that you are not alone in your waiting.
We are all waiting for peace on earth, and we are waiting to experience everywhere good will towards our fellow man. In one way or another, we await the arrival of God.
This Advent may we each find hope and peace in the midst of our waiting.