Sometimes, we enter seasons of life where we are forced to wait. We might enter a season of discernment, new opportunities show up, or we are required to cease doing activities or ministries due to circumstances.
We might be on a crossroad where we need to choose which path we follow. These situations can become hugely stressful if the way forward is not obvious as both options might be equally exciting or frightening. Sometimes we simply long to hear from God to give us directions as we want to please him and follow his guidance and calling.
These moments of inactivity are challenging and highly stressful, especially if what we do is weaved into our identity, into who we are. Plus, many support-raising missionaries wonder whether their supporters keep partnering with them or not as their ministry is changing or standing still…
Speaking from my own life I can honestly say that managing stress is tiring and depleting, as we carry current and on-going concerns. Concerns have the habit of being constantly present in our mind, day and night, and have the potential to turn into nagging anxiety and stress.
A friend recently mentioned to me how much he dislikes the term ‘stress-management’. When we are encouraged to actively manage our stress, we operate under the assumption that we can actually do something about the circumstances. This implies that we have the ability to control or change the outcome. This is not always the case. Instead of stress-management, my friend says, we should talk about ‘stress-integration’.
Jesus explicitly said that we will have tribulations, that we will experience trouble in this world (John 16:33). Even though we might not be able to control or change these troubles, we do have the ability to experience stress from a positive outlook. In the midst of the trouble, we can have peace. Jesus speaks “I am with you!” in the midst of stressful circumstances. With his help we will go through the challenges, maybe even with showing compassion or deepening our faith. Our outlook is not so much on the stressful circumstances but on the experience of God in the midst of those very circumstances. Trusting that Jesus is indeed with us changes our stance in these times of waiting completely!
How then, do we wait during stressful times?
In my younger years I used to paraglide. It did not take me long to realize that there is waiting involved in paragliding. I actually learned that at my very first ‘real’ flight after the training on even ground… My first real flight happened in Flims, Switzerland. We took the cable car up a mountain and to say I was nervous is an understatement. I experienced that strange mix of fear and excitement.
On top of the mountain, I laid out the wing, checked and double checked the material for any defect. I checked and double checked my harness and whether everything was properly attached and secured. I checked the safety equipment and double checked if the wing was laid out on the grass correctly. You do not want to realize 4500ft above ground that you forgot to close a carabiner, to quote my instructor… And as I sat there, holding the liners that connect me to the wing, I waited. As I waited for conditions to be perfect, I looked at the beautiful grass field we used to start the flight. I went through the motions again in my mind: As soon as the wind turned my direction, I would stand up, lean into the lines and start running. Differently than a parachute that catches you as you jump out of an airplane, the paraglider catches the wind in its cells and lifts you up. Truth be said, I did look at the cliff 100ft away at the end of our starting grass field. The wing should be up above me catching the airflow and lift me before the 2000 feet drop… right?
As I waited, I did not do anything at all. The waiting is an intense period between having done everything I could and should have done and the wind turning towards me, enabling me to take off. It is a stressful moment of anticipation, sheer excitement and fear of that first flight. As I waited, I registered the movements of every blade of grass, I felt the change of the wind in my face. Waiting is an intense expectation; every muscle is ready to spring into action.
And then the wind does turn. I felt it in my face, I saw it in the grass, and I heard my instructor shout: GO! With a single motion I stood up, leaned into the lines and my movement transformed the material lying in the grass behind me into a wing, towering above me. I only took three or four steps towards that cliff before the wing gently pulled me up and I floated a foot above the ground, then two and suddenly 2000ft as I went over the cliff – and at that moment a shout of pure joy and wonder escaped my lips.
Every single person flying a paraglider trusts a few lines and some nylon canopy with their life – literally. As I waited for the wind to change, I knew I had to trust those lines and the canopy.
However, even having the best material I could possibly buy, I still fully depended on the wind. If the wind had not turned, I would have packed my paraglider up and headed down the mountain in the same cable-car I came up with.
And this is the same attitude as I wait in stressful circumstances. As I wait for God to speak. As I wait for direction. As I wait to get clarity for my next step. As I wait for finances, health or simply an answer to my prayers.
I wait with the intense expectation to feel the wind of God on my face and the moment I feel the nudging of the Spirit I lean in, trusting with my life that God will in fact carry me through everything he invites me into!
Hebrews 11:1 says that “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Rather than trying to manage something I cannot control or change, faith enables me to wait with an expectation that I will feel the breath of the Holy Spirit on my face. Faith enables me to trust the things I know about God to be true, even if I do not experience them right now.
I trusted some lines attaching me to a piece of nylon enough to run towards a 2000ft cliff – and I experienced an explosion of joy. How much more can I trust the promises of God and his goodness – in the midst of stressful waiting! It is the presence of God that offers us peace of heart and mind as we wait for the Holy Spirit to lift us and direct our next steps.
How about you? Are you in a season of waiting? What are you hoping for that is yet unseen? How do you need to experience the presence of God in the midst of your waiting?