By Dorcas Cheng-Tozun

The Grace of Waiting: Advent 2019

Advent is all about waiting — until it’s not.

In my own life, I have often found that when God moves, he is quick and decisive. I have waited years for a child, career opportunities, reconciliation, and healing. In some areas of my life, I am still waiting.

But in other areas, when God has acted, it is with such clarity and consequence that I am almost knocked back on my heels. Even after all that waiting, I suddenly realize that I may not be fully ready for the Creator of the universe to intervene in my life.

I think of Mary, a young girl whose future, as far as we know, is primarily defined by her upcoming marriage. And then she is visited by an angel, whose words and promises change her life trajectory, forever cementing her place in Christian history.

I think of Mary and Joseph, later on, as they make their way to Bethlehem. Mary, in particular, is likely ready for this pregnancy to be over. And then, suddenly, it is, and she is tasked with raising a baby who will grow up to save humanity.

I have come to believe that, oftentimes, we need the waiting period. We need that time to wonder and worry and wander. We need the opportunity to try almost everything else: Can I fix it myself? Can I make this better? Can I find answers elsewhere?

And then, only then, are we ready to see the work of God. The failures, the missteps, the despair, the many, many disappointments — these both break and rebuild us.

In my most painful times of waiting, I have seen my own sense of control crumble. My ego has been severely deflated. The priorities that should never have been priorities fall away. And that creates space for me to see a little more clearly what’s real and true, what matters and what’s eternal.

My friend Sue Eitemiller, my very first writer friend whom I met almost a decade ago, passed away this summer from cancer. In a matter of weeks, she went from waiting to finish chemo, to waiting for other treatment options when the cancer had spread, to, finally, waiting to die.

In this most terrible season, Sue turned, of course, to writing. She filled journals with reflections and devotions that revealed the loving God she encountered in her suffering. At her request, her family shared a collection of her writings at her memorial service.

In one of her journal entries, she referenced Psalm 1:3: “And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season...” And then she wrote,

I’ve always been under the impression and pressure to bear fruit for God all the time, every day. But what about the possibility of God nourishing us, strengthening us within, growing deeper, stronger roots in some periods of our lives, and then causing us to bear fruit? Are we meant to bear fruit in cycles?

It seems to me that a tree that is always bearing fruit would grow weaker rather than stronger. Perhaps sabbatical, coming away, solitude and silence are all key elements of the in-between-fruit-bearing stage. It seems like such a healthy rhythm to life — a season of bearing fruit, then a season of nourishment/rest. Both of these seasons are blessed by God!

Waiting can sometimes feel like rest and nourishment. But I know it often doesn’t. Our waiting seasons can be filled with restlessness and frustration, with wanting to tear our hair out and rip up our expectations and start all over.

And yet doesn’t waiting well-describe those “in-between-fruit-bearing stages,” as Sue called them?

We need these times of waiting to ready ourselves for the times of not-waiting. We need this time and space to search our hearts, our minds, our guts, to ask if we truly believe God is who he says he is. We need the opportunity to dig deeper roots, to stretch out our limbs, to steady the core of our identities.

How else can we withstand the earthquake that may come when God moves?

God knew I needed to wait before I would be ready to parent my first child, and again to parent my second. I had to go through a long period of wondering and searching, of doubting and persevering, of meeting dear friends like Sue, before I was ready to switch careers to writing — a wonderful, life-giving work that is nevertheless full of criticism, rejection, and failure.

I still live in a desert of anxiety more than ten years after I first sought help for it, but I also see how this struggle forces me to let go of self-sufficiency and embrace dependence on both God and others. If God were to suddenly decide to save me from my anxiety, it will no doubt be because he has something terrifyingly good in store for me.

God’s intervention inevitably brings change, welcome or not. We humans have an amazing capacity to be frightened of or bitter about change, even when it is exactly what we have asked for all along. We need to be readied for this change, and that takes time.

So God waits. And he lets us wait with him. It may seem like we don’t bear much fruit during these arduous, confusing liminal spaces, but we can build up our courage, our faith, our hope, which in turn builds up our capacity to flower and bloom when the time is right.

Exactly when that time is is entirely outside of our control, of course. As Sue’s story reminds me, God sometimes brings the season of harvest on a timeline that extends beyond our own.

But, even then, the waiting in and of itself is still precious. We grow more into who we were meant to be. We become a little bit more ready to see the coming of the kingdom — whether it is in this life or the next.

Waiting is a grace, a gift. And when God moves, we’ll be exceedingly grateful how that time in between prepared us for the intervention of the Creator of the universe.

About the Author
Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is a writer and leader whose work with various nonprofits, social enterprises, and faith-based organizations has given her opportunity to engage with a broad range of social issues toward solutions in the areas of homelessness, affordable housing, energy access, youth leadership, HIV/AIDS, and international development. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her social entrepreneur husband and two young sons.
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