I have three prints from San Antonio artist Teri Jo McReynolds that hang in my office. One depicts a young girl looking out of an upper story window. Another shows a slightly older girl selling dolls in a street market. The final picture shows a young boy drinking from a gushing well. These three pictures help orient my prayer life. They remind me of the importance of waiting, of asking, and of receiving. Over the next three weeks, I will write on each of these beginning today with waiting.
In our family there are certain phrases that are ingrained into our children from an early age. Phrases such as, “Little children who run eventually fall down” or “We look and say,’Oh, so pretty!’” The one that comes easily from my mouth but difficult to my ears is “Sometimes we wait.”
I recognize the truth in this statement, I just don’t want to recognize its truth in my prayer life. I can see in the garden the waiting between planting and harvest, but I can also fill that time with watering, weeding, pruning, and the other tasks by which I make the garden grow. Now that it is November, I can recognize the waiting in the deer stand, but even there, I bring something to occupy my time. I rely on my own quietness. I even try to will the deer into my field of view. I still imagine that I have some control.
Yesterday, I experienced another lesson in waiting as I reported for jury duty. For eleven hours I waited to be either selected or released. The process was important, a person’s freedom or incarceration was at stake. The process was active and moved effectively to empaneling a jury. However, the process was not about me and did not depend on me for anything other than my being at the time and place appointed by someone else.
Our spiritual waiting is much the same. As much as I would like for my prayer life to be a garden, with the predictability of seasons and the tangible tasks that allow me to maintain an illusion of control and importance, and as much as I would like for my prayer life to be like the deer stand where, if I am quiet enough and still enough and perhaps scatter a little corn on the ground, I can capture a spiritual grace as nourishment and as a trophy, in reality my spiritual waiting is more akin to jury duty. I am summoned to waiting at an often inconvenient time. The things both seen and unseen that happen as I wait are tremendously important. Freedom and bondage are at stake. The activity is often beyond my conscious awareness, independent of my effort or skill, and following a timeline and trajectory that is often obscured from my view. My only involvement is to be present at the time and place that God appoints.
Spiritual waiting often feels like a time of failure, a time when I should be doing something more or different or better to move my own spiritual growth forward. It is a time when I desire at least the illusion of control; however, spiritual waiting teaches me. In waiting, I learn that I am not the center of my prayer life. In waiting, I learn to notice the way God works in and through community orchestrating the work of the Kingdom even when that work does not depend on or even include me. In waiting, I learn, often in retrospect, to catch glimpses of the way the Spirit works deeply in my own spirit beyond my conscious awareness and effort.
I often need the picture of a child expectantly waiting to remind that even in prayer, “Sometimes we wait.”