"I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position one has reached in life as by the obstacles which one has had to overcome."
Booker T. Washington
This spring I planted flowers. I filled plastic planters with potting soil, dug hollows, pressed delicate seedlings into place. I dragged the pots to the areas of best sunlight on my patio. I watered and watched, arranged and rearranged, worried and waited for something to grow. And waited.
Days passed without a stirring of greenery on the patio outside my window. I watered more, arranged again, watched and monitored, grumbled and complained that nothing seemed to be happening.
“I planted . . . but God gave the increase”
(1 Corinthians 3:6).
Faith so often means patiently waiting, and it is hard to practice patience. We want evidence that our work will be productive and positive. We want proof that our efforts will create the increase we desire, and we feel anxious when the bounty isn’t immediately delivered.
Growth so often takes place below the surface. While we work and wonder above ground, roots develop and spread beyond our sight. God controls the reaching and expanding that occurs without our knowledge. God generates the life that stirs before we see its presence.
All we can do is faithfully tend, water, weed, and wait. We have to choose to believe that God is acting and will produce the final harvest. We have to cultivate trust that the outcome belongs to God and the result will blossom in its season.
Weeks have passed, and my patio is finally covered in green. All I did was plant, water, and watch the good things grow.
What are you waiting for today? How do you trust God is working while you practice patience?
My hard shoes scraped on the stone stairs. Every morning I climbed the five grueling flights up to my corner tower office where the only window looked out over the parking lot. On the spiraling staircase, each step dipped in the middle, eroded by decades of other wandering soles.
For a year I worked as a proofreader for a government office, in a beautiful old stone building with winding staircases and wide, echoing halls. On my lunch hours I walked alone through dark and mysterious corridors, traveling under the building’s basement through tunnels that looped endlessly back upon themselves. For a year of lunch hours, I wandered those halls and stairways, always circling back to the beginning, always ending up back in the place where I had started.
Over the building’s main entry, a faded mural depicted settlers moving west. A woman in the center of the panel had her arm raised and pointed toward the horizon. The mural reminded me every morning that while the rest of the world explored great adventures, I was stuck quietly walking in circles.
“I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined to me and heard me” (Psalm 40:1).
Everyone experiences periods of waiting. We will all face times when we wander in circles and wonder when we will break out of our pattern to cover new ground.
Throughout that year of waiting, as I was forced to circle back and confront myself every day, I learned many lessons about facing my fears and conquering the frustrations that kept me from moving forward. I began to see the value of traits we develop during times of waiting.
Patience: We can choose to have patience. We can commit to learning everything possible from our current situation. When the time is right and we are ready for new lessons, the road ahead will turn and take us in a different direction to a new and surprising destination.
Perseverance: We can’t stop walking. The only way to move forward is to keep moving, keep traveling. When we hit an occasional dead end, it’s alright to turn back and try a different route, but we have to keep taking one step after another.
Trust: God is working for us behind the scenes. While we wait and trust, God is shifting walls, removing barriers, and directing the traffic that will take us where we need to be. When we’re ready to move on, God will rearrange the signs to point us toward the place he wants us to go.
Hope: As long as we live, we will always have hope. There are always new opportunities to find and new challenges to face. When we keep moving and keep looking forward, our path will be open to new experiences and our eyes will discover new vistas.
After a year of walking through the cold and empty hallways, I did set off on a new path. I moved to a new home, started a new school, changed jobs, made new friends, and met my future husband. When we wait and trust in the path God has planned, we will escape the daily climb to reach more wide and expanding spaces.
How do you face a period of waiting? In what direction is God leading you today?
The instructor told the dog to "Stay," then she opened the classroom door. As long as the dog remained sitting, the door stood open. As soon as the dog moved to stand, the door swung closed.
For a while the dog yo-yo'd up and down while the door flapped open and shut. When the dog finally surrendered and sat motionless, the instructor opened the door, said a quiet "Go," and allowed the dog to move.
This exercise is important to teach patient waiting, the instructor explained. Dogs that learn to "Stay" won't lunge forward and bolt through every open door temptation. They are protected from the dangers of speeding traffic and busy streets that threaten outside their shelters. Dogs that learn to "Stay" have to trust they will be allowed to move when it is safe for them to do so.
Lately I've been struggling to hear God's "Stay" or "Go" in my own life. I've debated leaving behind some projects and commitments that I suspect are no longer helping me grow. I see the doors swing open, but I cannot hear the "Go" command nor see what lies on the other side.
God's directions are usually not as clear as a firm "Stay here" or "Go now." God often speaks to us through quiet signs and signals. We have to stop, watch, and listen for the subtle clues and comments that may arrive from unexpected sources.
On the day I planned to quit one job and move on to something new and different, I received a surprise email from a person whose faith I admire and trust.
"I'm proud of the work you're doing," she told me. "I brag about you to all my friends."
Suddenly my work seemed noticed and valuable. Suddenly someone understood and appreciated my efforts.
I think that means I need to stay where I am and be patient a while longer, I decided. I need to keep working and finish all the lessons I need before I'm released to take what I've learned outside.
Someday I will hear the command to move forward. It may come through another unexpected email, a comment from a friend, or just a feeling of certainty that I can't stay where I am any longer. Meanwhile, I keep listening and learning, so that when the time is right, I will be ready to launch forward through a waiting open door.
How has God told you when it's time to move forward? How does God encourage you when it's time to stay and wait?