God Works in the Waiting

Ten years ago today, I received the Eucharist for the very first time.  It had been a year since I had prayerfully accepted the Lord’s invitation to enter the Catholic Church.  My conversion had begun with hunger for a deeper life of faith, transformed into a search for truth, and blossomed into something joyful and unexpected.  But that is a story for another time. Today is about the waiting.

Waiting for the Eucharist

I am not a person who waits.  I take my time to think, to research, to plan and to pray.  But once I reach a decision, I do not like to delay execution.  When I made the decision to enter the Catholic Church, I did not want to wait.  The image I have of my excitement is Harry’s line at the end of When Harry Met Sally: “Once you realize that you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”  I wanted to receive Jesus in the Eucharist as soon as possible.

But God said, “Wait.”  The year I spent in RCIA seemed impossibly and unnecessarily long.  I didn’t resent it; I respected the process. Thankfully, I had some wise Catholic friends who encouraged me to savor this time of preparation rather than rush past it.  That was great advice, but it wasn’t easy. I remember watching young children receive communion over the course of that year. I couldn’t help but wonder – surely my understanding of the Eucharist was more nuanced, and my desire to receive it much greater than that of those seven-year-olds? Still, I trusted that God must have some purpose for me in the waiting.

Ten years later, I can conjure the memory, an almost physical ache, of yearning to receive the Eucharist.  Recalling what it meant to me then helps me to more fully enter into the mystery now, when it remains as mysterious but has become so familiar.  That time of waiting was more than mere preparation; it was in itself a gift, and one that I couldn’t have anticipated. Waiting to receive the Eucharist created a touchstone for me, a permanent place in my memory that I can always return to in prayer.  

Waiting to receive the Eucharist created a touchstone for me, a permanent place in my memory that I can always return to in prayer.  

The more I encounter the liminal space of waiting, the more I am able to accept that waiting has a purpose.  God works in the waiting.  Looking back, I can recognize God’s handiwork in many of the waiting periods of my life.  At times, I’ve waited with the patient trust I had as I anticipated receiving the Eucharist (it helps when God gives you an end date).  Others, such as the final trimester of my last pregnancy, have felt supernaturally long. Even in retrospect, I don’t always see God’s purpose in the waiting.  But sometimes, God offers me glimpses of what he is doing. Just enough, I suppose, to encourage me to have faith for the next long wait.

Waiting to Be Home

Another, more painful period of waiting began after the birth of our first child, when I realized the deep desire of my heart to be home with her.  I wanted to pause my career and be fully present for each moment with our little one. I used to count the pitiful number of awake hours that I’d get to spend with her each week. I was frustrated, sad, guilt-ridden. I wanted to be the one forming her. I cried as I packed away boxes of clothing that would never again fit her – the newborn, infant, toddler that size was already gone, and every day it seemed she was becoming someone new.

The goal of being home with her remained on the other side of an impassable financial chasm.  Being stubborn and determined, I attempted a number of things to force this gap closed. All of them were fruitless, and carried the added sting of taking my time away from my daughter.

It’s been almost a year since I stopped working (although for much of that time I thought I’d be going back).  I knew that this transition would come with difficulties. God knew that as well.  I have a tendency towards perfectionism and an addiction to accomplishment – things that a career and advanced degrees feed well.  Leaving that world behind has opened up a space in my soul for new possibilities that I am just beginning to explore.

But it has also left a void.  In a world where my accomplishments are a clean kitchen, shiny floors, and fresh sheets, I struggle.  I find myself leaving so much undone. The work of motherhood does not lend itself to a checklist.  More than ever, I am realizing that vocation is about being over doing. My kids need my gaze, my arms, and my attention more than they need a spotless house.   My days are filled with tantrums, time-outs, and carefully crafted meals left uneaten. If I hadn’t had the time of waiting, of wistful longing to be present for all of this, I’m not sure if I would have been able to see anything but the mess.

More than ever, I am realizing that vocation is about being over doing. My kids need my gaze, my arms, and my attention more than they need a spotless house.

Thankfully, God’s plans are greater.  Remembering the deep desire I felt for this life allows me to pause and soak in gratitude for sleepy morning hugs, fort-building, and afternoon tickle fights. I watch my children play together, storing up the sound of their giggles that comprise such fleeting moments of our lives.  I relive the excitement of discovering the world for the first time through their eyes. Even in the mess and the screaming, I understand in my bones what a treasure it is to have this time.

God knows me.  He made me. He knows where I am cracked and broken, and which ways I tend to stray off course.  Like a doctor setting a broken bone to heal correctly, he knew the medicine I needed to prepare for the road ahead.  Yes, it was painful. It was also necessary.

Faithful Waiting

We don’t see the purpose of the waiting.  That’s part of what makes it so hard. Bearing the uncertainty of these moments requires trust and surrender.  In my experiences, waiting has created space for longing, and remembering that feeling grants me access to a deep well of gratitude.  This is the well that gives life to the joy blossoming in my faith and my motherhood.

Like the time between planting seeds and seeing tiny specks of green peak through the soil, there is something happening under the surface that I cannot see.

Knowing this doesn’t remove the anxiety of waiting, but it has taught me a bit about how to wait faithfully.  When I find myself suspended in liminality, I try to pause and remember that God is at work. Like the time between planting seeds and seeing tiny specks of green peak through the soil, there is something happening under the surface that I cannot see.  I’m not sure what is coming, but I know enough now to trust that it’s there, and that this time, however uncomfortable, is not for nothing. I suppose the best we can do in the meantime is invite Jesus to sit with us and to help us be present to what is.  The next thing will surely come.

When you find yourself in similar periods of restless waiting, I hope this prayer might bring you quiet stillness and patient trust:

Patient Trust

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made
by passing through some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ

9 thoughts on “God Works in the Waiting

  1. Samantha, I am in awe of what I have just read written by you. I had no idea how devout you are in your faith. I am so blessed to have had you be my advocate on my journey into the Catholic faith and look forward to reading more of your future journeys with your delightful family. Blessings always. Gigi

  2. Sam, thanks for sharing your wisdom and faith; love this blog, your willingness to share and letting us in to walk the journey with you! Maria

  3. Sam, as I read through this message, the first time, I was looking for you – your heart. But by the time I got to the end, I realized this message was speaking directly to me! As I wait through this time of transition in my job, experiencing feelings and thoughts I’ve never had in my 11 years here, your final paragraph was written to remind me to wait FAITHFULLY. We don’t know what’s coming and some of the possibilities seem unendurable at the moment. Time will tell and we will be ok.
    The third time I read it, I saw my heart as a young mother, but how much depth and appreciation of motherhood I missed out on because I was adrift from my faith. I continue to be impressed by your ability to put your thoughts, emotions honestly into words. Keep writing! You have a beautiful gift to share!!

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