When We Want to Give Up Waiting
Article by Vaneetha Rendall Risner
I am an impatient person. I don’t like waiting. I get annoyed by slow drivers in fast lanes. I audibly sigh when I get into a long checkout line. I am quick to remind wait staff in restaurants that I’m waiting to be seated or served.
“Could it be that what we are waiting for is more important to us than God?”
Those are trivial situations, yet I still find it hard to wait. There are bigger, much more important issues that I’ve waited for as well. I’ve waited an agonizingly long time for healing from my post-polio. For clarity on which path to take in an important decision. For restoration of a difficult relationship. For a dear friend to return to faith. For each, I have waited long past the time when I thought my requests should have been answered. For many serious requests, I’m still waiting.
I take comfort in seeing that people in the Bible, like Abraham, grew impatient too when their prayers and promises didn’t materialize as they’d hoped.
What Only God Could Do
God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. And then there was silence. Nothing happened for eleven long years (imagine where you were eleven years ago). Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was barren and well past her childbearing years.
After more than a decade of waiting, they both assumed that perhaps they needed to act on their own to fulfill the promise of God. So, Abraham took Hagar, Sarah’s servant, and had Ishmael. For a while, they thought the promises would now come true through Ishmael.
Thirteen years later, God told them Sarah would bear a son, Isaac. They had waited so long, neither of them believed God was going to do it now. Abraham was decidedly unenthusiastic at the proclamation. After he audibly laughed and inwardly doubted, Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” (Genesis 17:18).
Abraham had figured out a way to have heirs on his own. The thought of waiting, being wholly dependent on God, wasn’t part of his plan. He wanted God to bless what he had done, rather than wait for what only God could do.
Why We Give Up Waiting
That’s what I often do. I don’t like waiting. I want to act, to figure it out, to know with certainty what’s going to happen. And then I want to move ahead. Abraham wanted God to bless Ishmael so he could have descendants through him. God had something different in mind, something that unfolded to Abraham over time — something impossible in the eyes of man.
“Don’t shortcut what God has for you.”
Honestly, often I want Ishmael too. I want the thing I can figure out, that I have control over, that doesn’t require waiting and trusting.
What do we do when, like Abraham, our waiting for days turns into months, which turns into years, which turns into decades? Do we turn our heart away from God, who seemingly never delivered what we’re waiting for? If that happens, could it be that what we are waiting for is more important to us than God?
What God Denies Us
What is happening in our waiting? Is it just an empty space between our prayers and their fulfillment? No, in our waiting, God does his deepest work.
God is sanctifying us and teaching us to trust him. Sometimes we get what we are waiting for, and we rejoice and are grateful. Other times, we never see that fulfillment on earth, and we are drawn closer to God as we continue to seek him.
God has not forgotten us. It’s not that our requests are unimportant. He will answer them in his own time (which is also always the best time for us). He sees what we cannot see; he knows the potential dangers and snares he is protecting us from. While we’re waiting, God is with us. He aches with us, cries with us, comforts us. He meets us in our pain and uses all our struggles for our good. One day, we will thank him for everything that he gave us, and denied us, on this earth.
Pass on the Humanly Possible
Waiting is good for us. It’s painfully easy, however, to grow weary and take matters into our own hands because it’s taking too long. It’s tempting to look for Ishmael, to provide for ourselves, to meet our desires our own way. It may feel like we’re simply finding another means to an end, but God is in both the means and the end. Don’t shortcut what God has for you. Don’t give in to disillusionment. Don’t settle for Ishmael when God has Isaac for you. Isaac was the son of laughter and promise, the fulfillment of all God had said. Isaac was worth waiting for.
“One day, we will thank him for everything that he gave us, and denied us, on this earth.”
Isaac requires faith. It’s scary to let go of a sure thing and wait for something that may not materialize. We’re afraid we’ll be left with nothing, wondering why we waited at all. We may reason that something is better than nothing, and so we are satisfied with Ishmael. It meets our needs. But Ishmael will never fulfill us because Ishmael is what we do in our own strength. And we have no ability to satisfy our deepest desires. We need God to do that. He may do it through miraculously fulfilling what we asked for, or he may do it by denying what we asked for and giving us more of himself. Either way, we will find joy because we have him.
What is your Ishmael? What are you tired of waiting for and tempted to take into your own hands? What are you afraid to let go of because it seems that something is better than nothing? What are you trusting God for?
Don’t settle for what is humanly possible; wait for what only God can do.
Vaneetha Rendall Risner is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Desiring God, who blogs at danceintherain.com. She is married to Joel and has two daughters, Katie and Kristi. She and Joel live in Raleigh, North Carolina. Vaneetha is the author of the book The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering.