Today I’m sharing an excerpt from a new book by my friend Marlena Graves. And good news about a book giveaway!
This week, Brazos Press will be giving away a five-book package that includes A Beautiful Disaster by Marlena Graves, A Life Observed by Devin Brown, Darkness Is My Only Companion by Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Be Not Afraid by Samuel Wells, and Monk Habits for Everyday People by Dennis Okholm.
Brazos Press will also be giving away copies of A Beautiful Disaster to five additional winners. Winners will be announced Friday, June 13, so hurry if you want to enter! You can enter the giveaway here: ABeautifulDisasterBook.com/giveaway.
People in waiting want to do something, anything, to find relief. Prolonged stress and pain can leave us feeling listless and helpless. In such a state, we are vulnerable to acedia. We can come to despise the place we’re in, the place of waiting on God for an answer or just waiting for life to happen. Evagrius calls this hatred for place and for life itself. We may cast off self-restraint and seek to fill our emptiness with forms of escape and destruction. And that’s when we can get into all sorts of serious trouble.
I think of Abraham and Sarah, who got restless while they waited for God to give them their son. The longer they waited, the more Sarah was tempted to believe that she and Abraham had been delusional in believing that God would provide for them at her age. And even if she and Abraham weren’t delusional, maybe they had misunderstood how God meant to provide. Surely he didn’t mean for her to become pregnant at her age. That didn’t make a lick of sense. What made sense to her and to Abraham (who by no means fussed at Sarah’s suggestion) was for him to sleep with Hagar, Sarah’s servant. Maybe God was waiting for them to work things out on their own. Of course! That’s how he would provide. So Sarah and Abraham, exasperated by the wait, decided to take the situation into their own hands. But we know (and they soon figured out) that impatience with God, disguised as a commonsense approach, proves destructive and sometimes fatal.
We rationalize our impatience. We are creative in coming up with reasons for why we need not wait or why our impatience is justified. We throw fits and justify tantrums. But if waiting functions as the womb of the kingdom, then we must be on our guard when our souls become agitated and we lose our peace. We do not want to become so agitated that we leave the womb before its time.
The serious situation with my father (and others like it) taught me that I need to learn to thwart destructive forces by functioning well in the wait. I need to learn how to receive shalom in circumstances decidedly hostile to peace. There are those who somehow live in peace as they wait, even when circumstances are at war with them. Jesus was one of them, as was Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr.
Instead of slowly slipping out of existence or barely living or living lives marked by sound and fury, those who wait well are alive to the world even when they experience long bouts of inner darkness. We wait well by embracing the present moment, as difficult as that can sometimes be. Jean-Pierre de Caussade calls this discipline the sacrament of the present moment.
Embracing the present moment means being fully present to the now, not letting our minds wander somewhere else or wishing we were somewhere else while performing a task or talking to another person. Embracing the present moment is most difficult for me when I am trying to perform a task. I sometimes catch myself wanting to respond to people online (or actually responding to people online) when I should be listening to or playing with my daughters or when I should be folding and putting away laundry. I still have much to learn and much to practice when it comes to this discipline.
We need to depend on God’s grace to help us wait well in the present because, indeed, the present is all we have. Mark Mallett defines the present moment as “the only point where reality exists.” It is now that we are to be attentive to God, to existence. Yesterday disappeared like a puff of smoke, and we are not guaranteed another moment. The present, even when we’re waiting, is holy unto God. It is where God acts. It’s in our wilderness experiences, in the seemingly godforsaken wait, that we must discipline ourselves to remember that God is here. Emmanuel. God with us.
Kathleen Norris writes, “For the early Christian abbas and ammas, both heaven and hell were to be found in present reality. While both were envisioned as an inheritance–one to be hoped for, the other avoided–neither existed apart from every day experience.” We must choose which direction we wish to move in the present. Will we inch toward life or toward death?
I remember a time when I was resting in my bed, daydreaming about when God would fulfill a promise he had made to me. For years, I thought about this promise throughout the day, every day. I knew that while I trusted God to bring it about, I had to do my part as I moved toward this calling. The waiting was difficult, and I waited in anticipation of the day when I’d no longer be waiting.
As I lay there pondering the future, the Lord brought this thought to me: “Marlena, your incessant pondering about this is like a student who sits in a classroom itching for class to be over. All she does is glance up at the clock without paying attention to what the professor is saying. Although present in the classroom, she is disengaged and learning nothing, all because her attention is on the clock. She is waiting for class time to wind down because she’d rather be somewhere else.”
While my eyes were on the fulfillment of God’s promise, they were not on him. I wasn’t paying attention to and cherishing the life right in front of me. It was as if everything else in life didn’t matter as much as the fulfillment of the promise. My obsessive ruminating, turning the situation over and over in my head, was a way of trying to figure out how God might answer me. I was not waiting well, for I was more obsessed with getting a future gift than with loving the Giver of all things right now. I needed to transfer my desire for control over to God. We must live the blessed life now, not forsake the present in anticipation of a future blessing yet to be revealed.
During his days on earth, if Jesus had behaved as I sometimes do when I wait–full of anxiety and despising the present because it’s not the future I dream of–he wouldn’t have had a ministry. In the in-between time, when he was waiting for his glory to be revealed, he wouldn’t have wanted to be bothered by others. He would’ve considered those who called upon him a nuisance, an interruption. Maybe he would’ve fled to the hills to hide in a cave until he turned thirty. But he didn’t do that. Instead, he was as fully present as possible to those around him–even while he was waiting to die. Jesus models well what it means to wait.
So while we wait, we do the next thing that lies before us. We do it to the best of our ability. Sure, there’ll be some days when we can barely function. We needn’t beat ourselves up over it. God remembers that we are but dust, a passing breeze that does not return. He doesn’t have unrealistic expectations for us. On those days, the next thing may be to climb out of bed. Get dressed. Make the bed. Go to work. Go to class. Make the kids breakfast. Walk the dog. Mow the grass. Clean up the toys or fold the laundry for the millionth time. Exercise.
It is good to keep up our daily rhythms as long as they are healthy rhythms. They keep us going when the wait is killing us. It is when we abandon our daily rhythms that we become unmoored. Maybe even frazzled.
Excerpted from Marlena Graves, A Beautiful Disaster, copyright 2014. Used by permission of Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group.
© 2014 Amy Simpson.