What to Do While You Wait

As an Enneagram One who values autonomy, I strive to retain the ability to do something about my situation, to have control over how my life turns out. I don’t like depending on others or waiting for circumstances beyond my influence to change. This makes waiting one of my least favorite things to do in life.

Waiting feels like a whole lot of nothing to me. Waiting implies refraining from action, not-doing. There’s an unavoidable passivity to waiting, where you entrust the taking of action to parties outside yourself and events outside your control. I especially find waiting difficult when I must endure some kind of suffering beyond my control. My automatic reaction to these kinds of difficult circumstances is to

  1. Assume I have made some kind of mistake that has led to this difficulty, and therefore
  2. Attempt to “solve” the “problem” and thereby find myself in more pleasant circumstances.

Our problem with waiting

If my conversations with people are any indicator, this is a very common (modern, Western) approach to difficulties and suffering. The assumption behind this automatic reaction, I think, is a kind of prosperity theology, where God rewards good behavior with an easy life. Don’t have an easy life? You must have strayed from the path somehow and need to get back on the straight and narrow. Then God will bless you with comfort and ease.

Also, because we live in a society that has practically deified technology, we tend to see difficulties as a sign of wrongness, a glitch in the system, a flaw in the plan, an error in the calculation, a problem to solve. We should be able to work and engineer our way out of any difficulty, the assumption goes, and so when difficulties persist, we fret and pray amiss.

It’s important to note that some of our difficulties in life are indeed due to poor choices or sin, and repentance and restitution should definitely figure into these kinds of situations. But many of the difficulties and complexities we face in our lives are totally beyond our direct control. What do we do with these, besides… nothing?

Photo by Marco López on Unsplash

Photo by Marco López on Unsplash

Patience as a task

I found a new perspective on waiting in Sergius Bulgakov’s Spiritual Diary. He wrote that if the “difficulties and complexities we face in our lives” are not due to our choices or sins, then we can accept them as “God’s will” for ourselves, a.k.a. the place where God is present and working with and for us, “as a riddle for the time being, and as a task for the present” (p. 66, emphasis mine).

Thinking about simply enduring the difficulties and complexities of my life as a “task for the present” feels very empowering to me. If I can’t find a way out of the suffering or confusion or difficulty I’m experiencing, I can simply endure it patiently, as a task. Blessedly, it’s something I can actually do. I can get up in the morning, say my prayers, ask God for help, and then get to the work I have to do today, even though I am also facing difficulties and complexities that I wish were different.

Most of the time the “difficulties and complexities we face in our lives” are not problems to solve, or signs of God’s displeasure, but simply part of life in a broken world. As such, they are to be endured with as much grace as possible (and indeed we need much grace to endure), trusting that God is at work in all things, to purify our faith, even through suffering we didn’t choose or cause.

This is a form of humbling ourselves, of coming to terms with reality, and growing in our capacity to do what love requires in each moment. Instead of distracting ourselves by fretting over how to get out of difficult circumstances, we are empowered to discern what action is needed in the present moment.

Bulgakov encourages us to take that action “as if the destinies of the world depend on you—on your activity or inactivity, however small or insignificant in its sphere—no less than they depend on all these grandiose by illusory events taking place on the stage of history… Love, take risks, sacrifice, and the rest will be granted to you” (Spiritual Diary, p. 67).

I find I need to repeat this injunction to myself often, and maybe they’ll be helpful to you today, too: Love, take risks, sacrifice, and the rest will be granted to you, friend.

This work by Gravity Commons is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

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