The Art of Waiting for Spring
Out the window, bare branches stretch up toward a cold gray sky. A few birds dart past; then all is silent and still.
Inside I am enjoying a rare moment of quiet in the early afternoon. This month of January has been hard for me—chewed me up and spit me out. If I were going to capture the month in a photo, it would be this:
Mundane moments, all piling on top of each other. I’m realizing that I’m better at handling bigger crises than I am at walking through small problems.
When a bigger crisis hits my life, I more readily see my need to run to the Lord and get His help. I am more easily open and vulnerable with others about what’s going on, and I am strengthened by community support. I am kinder to myself, giving myself space to grieve or heal or process. I am more accepting that life as I know it is derailed, but if I keep putting one foot in front of the other, I’ll get to the other side.
All those lessons seem to desert me when I face smaller problems—the mundane, the inconvenient, the annoying, the difficult. I don’t think I need God’s help because it’s so small, I can handle it on my own. I feel bad to talk about it with others because I will sound like I’m complaining and it’s not worth it. I am hard on myself, raising my expectations and then feeling ashamed when I don’t meet them. I struggle when life doesn’t go according to plan, and then wonder why such comparatively small suffering is getting under my skin.
This month there has been a lot of what you might call small suffering. Very small. Two examples would be my husband Ben needing to work a lot of overtime and my health being challenging. Neither of these examples, or the other things bothering me, seem tragedies even worth writing about or talking about with other people. (That’s the lie I believe at least, so that I circle the drain in silence.) The very smallness of the problems can deceive me until I’m feeling wearier or more depressed than I realized.
And then my old enemy shame, which I always think I’ve conquered until it comes in for another round, seeps in unsuspected. Christine Caine, in her book Unashamed (which I am loving), writes, “Most people don’t even think about what they are thinking about.”
I know that’s true for me. It’s not until I feel myself dissolving, my emotions like warnings on a dashboard all blinking simultaneously, that I tell myself, Okay, hold up, what is wrong?
I start thinking about what I’ve been thinking about, thoughts that have filtered through my mind completely unchecked, that I’m fat and ugly, that I’m a bad wife/mom/teacher/friend, that everyone thinks I’m stupid and wrong ….
And I think, Whoa, how did I get here? There’s no factual basis for any of these, which is how I distinguish shame from conviction—conviction focuses on something particular I’ve done wrong that I can confess and make right, while shame tells me that I am wrong and bombards me with a vague but heavy condemnation.
Christine Caine in her book compares thoughts to trains—that we have a choice which ones we board and allow to carry us away—and completely unconsciously I let myself board the wrong train and get to an unhealthy place.
I’ve felt powerless. The small sufferings in my life are mostly out of my control, and when I think through them, I realize the main action point for me is to wait. Ben’s working overtime, for instance—not something I can control, and soon the project will end. Or my chronic Lyme flareup—not something that I can control, but soon I’ll be done with this round of antibiotics and I anticipate I’ll start feeling better. Or just the fact that it is the middle of winter, cold and gray with windows and doors buttoned up against the outside.
In the hard meantime, the only action point is wait. These things cannot be changed; all they need is time. Which drives me nuts because I want the microwave version of life—a few quick and easy steps that will bypass the waiting and fix the problem so that I can feel better immediately.
Sometimes I forget that God is outside time, that He sees all the moments of my life simultaneously, and that He ordains my journey through time. I can look back at challenges I’ve faced, and if I could send a message back to myself, it would say something like this:
You can’t rush the process. This is hard, but you’re making it harder by worrying and complaining, essentially throwing yourself against it instead of accepting and cooperating. God’s got this, and He is going to bring you out the other side, and you’re going to come out different or better. I know the now is hard, but hang in there—it will get better.
I can’t send that message back in time to the me of yesterday, but maybe I can send it to the me of today, right now, when I’m so zoomed in that problems seem blurry and out of focus, and I need to zoom back out and take the long view.
And accept, stop fighting, and settle myself in for the wait.
I was driving to Costco this morning with Brennan in the back seat, and after that to a research paper class I teach, and I thought, I have felt powerless because so much of life right now is outside my control and all I can do is wait. But I can choose how I live while I wait.
I can choose what food I’m going to buy at Costco and what way I’m going to teach my class. And more than that, I can choose what attitude I have, my outlook and perspective. What kind of person am I going to be in this culture right now? How am I going to live in this world? I can choose.
There’s a lot in life I can’t control, but there’s a lot I sure can.
I can feel like a victim of circumstance, scouring the fridge for dinner for the kids and wondering how to parent them until bedtime, when I’m so tired and they’re so not. But strangely, as soon as I accept the things I have no control over—Ben’s work schedule, for instance, or how I’m physically feeling at the moment—then I can separate out the things I do have control over—what we’re going to eat and do that evening and what kind of mom I’m going to be.
Essentially, I just want to tell myself, Grow up. And that’s still too harsh. How about this:
Yes, you’re having a hard month, but that’s because God is growing you up. It will soon be over. Take the long view, trust Him, and learn the art of waiting for spring.