I remember reading Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting on Godot, when I was in high school. Two characters are waiting on someone named "Godot" – who never materializes – and, in the meantime, they have pointless and bizarre conversations about random, utterly meaningless issues. It never made any sense to me.
That’s been my problem with waiting in general (not just for Godot) over the years. Usually waiting doesn’t seem to make much sense or have much purpose at the time, but that is a sheerly human perspective, bound and shackled by our mortal limitations. To the contrary, I believe in a sovereign God who ordains all things for a good and wise purpose. So, by his grace, I have attempted to be patient through the times when I was not getting what I wanted (and thought I needed) on my timetable. Sometimes I’ve succeeded, other times not.
In May of 1978, I asked my then-not-yet-wife Nanell to marry me. It was, I thought, wonderfully romantic: the Café du Monde in New Orleans, me holding her hand, professing my affection and a love that would never fail. “Will you marry me?” I asked.
“Wow, now that’s a surprise! I’ll need to think about this” was the less than enthusiastic response. “I can wait,” I said, truly believing that my words represented the deepest and truest intentions of my heart.
But by November I had concluded otherwise. “No woman is going to string me out and play me like this,” I told myself. I withdrew my proposal. I was hurting, and I allowed that hurt to become anger and then bitterness. I refused to return Nanell’s cards and letters for two years. It was only by God’s mercy and grace that He allowed our paths to cross again, and I realized that the love I’d had for this woman had never diminished. God sealed our hearts together and, within the year, we were man and wife.
But I had waited poorly. I had pouted, felt sorry for myself, and almost thrown away the opportunity to join my life to the greatest woman I have ever known. It was a two-fold life lesson for me. First, always make sure that people are prepared before you ask them to make life-altering decisions on the spot. Second, learn to wait. With faith. With patience. With wisdom.
Fast-forward with me about eight years. Nanell and I were living in Memphis; I was doing doctoral work and pastoring a very challenging congregation in a midtown neighborhood. I had grown frustrated and impatient at the lack of response to what I humbly considered to be my superb pastoral leadership. Utterly exasperated, I called a former pastor and trusted mentor, Dr. Jerry Vines, to vent. “David,” he said, “you just need to calm down. God has placed you at that church – you’re barely a mile away from the seminary campus – to get your doctorate and to give you some experience preaching. Marry the young couples that want to get married (there were none of those), bury the ones that die (which was happening on a regular basis), spend a lot of time in your study, and keep all your notes because you’re going to need them over the years as you preach on those passages and write new sermons. Take a deep breath, David. Learn some patience.”
And I did. I took the counsel of a wise man, and I learned to wait. I’ll admit I wasn’t always patient. It would be a couple of years still until God moved me on to my next pastoral assignment. But, because I listened to the rebuke of a friend, I was able to use that time to learn some things about myself, enjoy our two young sons, and build some relationships that have lasted for decades now.
Waiting isn’t easy for any of us. And we find ourselves waiting in a myriad of situations — in relationships, in our careers, with our health. May God grant us all wisdom as we learn, ever patiently, to wait.