Monday, May 21, 2018

The Waiting Room: When Waiting on God to Talk Back Gets Hard



Yep--all of the clergy are gallivanting about in Israel, so ya got me. Don’t worry, we won’t be making flames with red glitter or having you act as one of the disciples in front of a gutsy fan.
 (Or, will we?)

My name is Meg and for almost a decade now, I have been blessed to serve as the minister to children and families here. It was not an easy gig to land, in fact, it took me spending some time in the slammer.

The year was  2008 and I was so done with ministry.

As one who spent most of my life as Mandy Moore’s character from the film, Saved (a tightly-wound, Bible-thumping Holy Roller), I had reached spiritual burnout. To add to this, I had just had an ugly falling out with a teammate, and the scars left me done with ministry (a call that had been on my heart since I was 13).

Don’t get me wrong, I was not done with Jesus or spirituality. I was just done with church, done with organized religion, and for my “big life plan” that meant done with seminary.

Although I had applied to seminary (and actually had gotten in), my bruised spirit would not let me go. I decided I would serve as a teacher in my home state--Texas.

Before I could fly south and begin this new chapter (away from the messy and draining world of ministry), there was one last thing I had to do. I had to go on a mission trip to Epworth Children’s home in St. Louis with the Discipleship Team at Southwestern. I might have stopped being a holy roller, but I was still a cheap-skate who had already paid for it, so I went.


As we arrived on the campus, they asked for 3 female volunteers who could lead a time of worship for some of the “children”. Leah, Megan and I volunteered. We were then escorted by a security guard. (Yes-you heard me right.) A female police officer led us down this dark, gray, and cold hallway.

She shared that this particular hall was for young women who did not do well in a Juvenile detention center . Due to their crimes and behaviors being so foul, they now resided here. I hesitantly smiled and hoped my discomfort would not hinder whatever God had planned for this unexpected time of worship.

The guard punched in the code to the thickest door I had ever seen. As it opened, sounds of chattery teen girls filled the air. I did not think hardened criminals would be talking about prom dresses and contouring, but they were. These young women were articulate, beautiful, and surprisingly hopeful. Never had my expectations for a moment been so far off.

After some high-quality mingling, we awkwardly transitioned into a time of worship through song. We passed out song sheets and I began to strum and sing the song “Jesus, Lover of My Soul”. Everyone sang along, and by the first chorus, I lost myself in the song and closed my eyes in prayer.

As I opened them I noticed a girl in a pink shirt and a high pony with her eyes tightly shut and tears streaming down her face as she sang. The image pierced my memory. As I looked at her, I heard the Holy Spirit speak within me (I guess God resorted to words because I was so oblivious to God’s voice at that point.), “I made you for this. I made you for this.” (And I guess God repeated it, just to make sure I got the point.)

Once we left Epworth, I vetoed my teaching plans and started applying for church gigs. That same week (I kid you not) Pastor Beth called me and told me that they were hiring a Children’s Minister and here I am 10 years later.

As I entered Epworth I was

Waiting, and conceitedly clueless. 

This was a moment that I was not even aware that I needed to be waiting for God to speak because I had it all figured out on my own. If I was waiting at all, I was most certainly cluelessly waiting for the wrong thing.

FreeImage.com

Fast forward six years. My husband and I are in a hospital room and I am lying on a plastiky, metally bed. Our high-risk pregnancy has made it to the eleven-week mark and the CVS test is about to begin. Due to my funky chromosomes, creating life was a mere dream of ours for years and here we were seeing her on a black and white screen.

He squeezes my hand as I sing hymns and cuss through the pain of the needle in my stomach. What hurt more than the physical pain was the fear that pulsated through me.

Will our child be ok? 

Between the nervous looks between Garrett and I, the doctor shared how he had never had a patient sing hymns before, but that cussing was a common response to the pain. Our nervous laughter was interrupted by a miraculous sight on the monitor.

“Well, would you look at that...” the doctor said, “He or she’s waving at us.”


As Garrett and I looked at the screen, we saw the tiniest little hand greeting us, as if to say, “Hey, mom! Hey, Dad! What’s goin’ on? I’m doin’ great in here!”

While it would be another week before we knew that Henley was healthy, that sacred sight was enough to still my scared soul. God shared a message of courage and comfort that day, not by words, but by sight.

In that hospital room, I was

Waiting, and anxiously afraid. 

The situation was totally out of my control. No choice of mine would make things any better. I was just fearfully waiting on God to do something because there was nothing that I could do. The problem was way bigger than me. I was just waiting; waiting and anxiously afraid.

Image result for Miki de Goodaboom painting of widow
Miki de Goodaboom
And then we get to 2018. We arrive at today. Over the last few years, a very special relationship of mine has been broken. With a horrible decision swept under the rug by others, I am really struggling to forgive. Time has passed, yet I see no signs of healing.

While I have witnessed first-hand just how miraculously God can communicate and am confident that God will do it again, I now find myself asking, “God, what are you saying in this moment? Will things ever get better? How do I move forward in a relationship in which there is such a strong disagreement? I want to restore the relationship, but how? God, share with me the steps you would have me to take. Speak again, Lord. Speak again. I am open and I am trusting, speak again.”

Right now, in this tough situation, I am

Waiting, and seeking next steps. 

Another way to look at this type of waiting is shared by one of our pastors here, Dave. He shares that months before he was called on by the bishop to serve at our church, he began feeling a divine nudge towards something different.

He could not quite articulate what he was being called to, but he shared these faint whispers with his wife months before the phone rang. He remained open and keenly tuned in to the Holy Hums, and when the call came, it was obvious that this was (we were) his next step.  (Side note: Dave has always comforted me over the years with his famous line of, “Don’t doubt for one second that God will graciously redirect you if you have misunderstood the nudge in some way.”)

When I am waiting, and seeking next steps 

Some parts of how this turns out are within my control. My thoughts and actions can make a difference. I know that God wants me to move, and I am willing to take the necessary steps, but I am unsure of what these are. I am aware that the Holy Spirit will guide and equip me, and I am open and listening for direction.

I am waiting, and seeking next steps.

I am waiting, and conceitedly clueless. 
I am waiting, and anxiously afraid. 
I am waiting, and seeking next steps. 

I am sure that Jesus’ closest friends were, on some level, waiting in similar ways on Pentecost.

Being one of the most popular of Jewish festivals, Pentecost was a time of celebrating the giving of the law to Moses (the ten commandments) and the new harvest. It’s name, ‘Pentecost’ comes from the fact that it fell on the fiftieth day after Passover (a holiday that celebrates how God protected the Hebrew people as they escaped the reign of Pharaoh in Egypt.).

Like most holidays, everyone took off of work and every Jew within 20 miles of Jerusalem would have gathered to celebrate. Needless to say--the place was a-buzzin’ (and we see this in the listing of the countries in today’s Bible verse) . Everyone showed up for the party--except for Jesus’ closest friends. Yes, they were there physically, but I would not say that they were in the party mood.

FLickr
There they were in a place where Jesus had met them many times before--the upper room. There they were in a space where so many lessons of loving service had been taught; where the bread was broken, feet selflessly washed and the proof of wounded hands shown. Here was where Jesus had asked them to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The weeks building up to this moment had been extremely puzzling. From the cross to the tomb, from the tomb to the sky, nothing was certain but uncertainty. Not only were they unsure of what God was going to do next, but they were unsure of what they were supposed to do next….so they waited.

Rembrandt 
Perhaps his disciple and friend, James, was waiting, and conceitedly clueless.

After all, he was known for his rash decision making and his inability to apply the gospel to earthly matters. Even up to the time of the ascension, he was questioning Jesus about what all of these weird events meant. He might have been waiting, but I doubt this “son of thunder” (nickname) was reflectivity waiting on the right thing.



Maybe there was some waiting, and conceitedly clueless going on in the upper room that day.

James Tissot 
Perhaps his pal, Peter, was waiting, and anxiously afraid.

The disciple that experienced every feeling at the highest, most animated extent was most likely anxious at Pentecost. From what we know of Peter, scenes like him reactively cutting off ears of those trying to arrest Jesus, sheepishly denying he knew Jesus (#groupThink) or impulsively jumping off boats to be close to Jesus were all too common. “That’s so Peter,” was most definitely an inside joke among the gang towards another ’s swift change of mood.

Maybe there was some waiting, and anxiously afraid going on in the upper room that day.


Perhaps the disciple, Andrew, was waiting and seeking next steps.

Being known as the truth seeker who worked in the background of his brother, Peter, Andrew led others to Jesus. At all costs and with great methodology, he valued and sought after truth. Feasibly on this holiday, high above the hype in the streets, Andrew humbly opened himself up and waited.

Maybe there was some waiting, and seeking next steps going on in the upper room that day.

Regardless as to what type of waiting was taking place, their patience was suddenly rewarded as,



“Without warning, there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks,”

(Like other times in the Bible, NT Wright teaches, "these scaredly strange moments are described with practical words and very real senses".)

“and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.

 There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world (remember--because of the holiday?). When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck.”


Here, unlike anytime before, these flaky friends and distracted students heard the voice of God in a way that shook them to their core. Not only were they convinced of the message of Christ themselves, but the message permeated through them in a way that it became contagious to others.

After the waiting, God did talk back, but the message was not theirs to keep.

Moved by the winds of the Spirit, it was time for them to leave the comfort of the upper room and go out into the streets. They would not go alone. They would be equipped with a boldness of speech, draped with wisdom and the Spirit would make it possible for others to know the healing love of Christ through their work.

Or as one of my favorite authors, NT Wright puts it,

“If Pentecost is simply all about us having new private religious experiences, however exciting and dramatic, we are turning Christianity into a private hobby.
 The gospel of Jesus Christ is nothing if it's not public truth, issuing a costly and dangerous challenge to the world's conceptions of truth. The world of the first Christian centuries was full of competing and clashing cultures, religions and tongues, and the followers of Jesus discovered that the tongues of fire which rested on the apostles enabled them to address these different cultures with a fresh judging and healing word of truth.
May it be so again in our day.”

No matter the type of waiting you are doing,

Waiting, and conceitedly clueless 
You are unaware that a situation needs redirection/recreation from the Holy Spirit or you are waiting for the wrong thing.

Waiting, and anxiously afraid
 You are in the midst of something that is completely out of your control and you are worried out of your mind.

Or

Waiting, and seeking next steps 
You feel the Spirit nudging you to act because a huge part of this situation is totally within your control, but you are unclear of your next steps. You are open and seeking them.

Know that you were not made to wait alone. Your tribe is here with you and God will talk back, but the message is not yours to keep. It’s for the benefit of others as well. 

With the help of the Holy Spirit moving through you and our community, we now offer up this space for a time of intentional waiting. Feel free to simply breath, pray, and seek as the following questions guide you.


How are you waiting today? 

 Are you waiting, and conceitedly clueless? 
(You are unaware that a situation needs redirection/recreation from the Holy Spirit or you are simply waiting on the wrong thing.) 

If so, what was a recent conversation that left you surprisingly defensive? What were you talking about? Offer this observation up to God, and if it occurs again, pray that the Holy Spirit would open your eyes and  (if necessary) adjust your vision. 

 And taking this question beyond yourself--are there other sides of the story that would be helpful to hear? Can you ask him/her to do coffee this week? Or lunch? Can you attend that meeting and just observe--just listen?

Are you waiting, and anxiously afraid?
 (You are in the midst of something that is completely out of your control and you are worried out of your mind. Whether it is the poor choices of one you love, or a diagnosis for yourself or another--there’s nothing you can do to change the outcome.)
estralla canziani

Are you making space in your day for this grief? Are you letting yourself lament? Pray that the Holy Spirit would help you to discern which parts of this situation are truly within your control and which ones are not. God is faithful. God will ground you in wisdom and adorn you with peace.


 And taking the question beyond yourself--is there someone who is going through a similar type of waiting who would benefit from hearing your story? How could your story offer healing to another? You do not wait alone. Hope awaits us in each other. 

Or 

Are you waiting, and seeking next steps?
(You feel the Spirit nudging you to act because a huge part of this situation is totally within your control, but you are unclear of your next steps. You are open and seeking them.) 

 Are you making time to listen intentionally? Or are your days too loud? Too full? When did this divine nudge begin? What do you know for certain that this nudge is not? What do you know for certain that it involves?

 And taking this question beyond yourself--is there someone within your community who has a similar interest? Perhaps someone who had a similar nudge a few years back and noticed it too?  Could you call him/her and swap stories? 


You were not meant to wait alone. 
We are here with you.
God will talk back, but--
the message is not yours to keep,
it’s for the benefit of others as well.