We established that no one likes to wait and that a small fraction of our waiting experiences is what we term active, or Advent waiting. What, then, comprises the majority of those periods of life when we linger in tension, when we are in between or feeling stuck or lost?
Passive waiting is when we move from a place of knowing specifically that God will complete some good work He has begun in us to becoming entirely unaware and uncertain of what He is doing or asking of us. We move from subject to object in passive waiting. For example, if you are late to work and get stuck in the midst of unexpected construction, you are experiencing passive waiting. If you just had a biopsy and have to spent an agonizing week not knowing if you have cancer or not, you are in passive waiting.
These times when waiting is painful, when we do not choose to suffer, is precisely what makes life worthwhile. It’s not because of the suffering itself; it is because of what Passion gives birth to, that is, Resurrection. We know that suffering is not the end and that our tragedies can bring about beautiful blessings. But how do we understand passive waiting so that we can learn to suffer well, or at least better?
The Gift of Helplessness and Dependency
Maybe you or someone you know has recently become injured or suffered an accident that left him/her incapacitated. Maybe you have fallen ill with a terrible malady and simply cannot keep up your active lifestyle anymore. Maybe you are disabled.
These are all examples of the helpless state, whether temporary or permanent. And when we can’t move around like we’re used to – going to work, doing household chores, taking care of our families – we feel guilty, as if we are a burden. But God shows us the hidden gift of helplessness, because He deliberately sent His Son as an infant totally dependent on His Mother’s love and nourishment:
The popular imagination discerns nothing in God: no dependence, no waiting, no exposure, nothing of passion or passibility…and therefore, when these conditions appear in the life of man, they must appear fundamentally ‘ungodlike;’ and therefore again they must appear alien to the proper status of man and unworthy of his unique dignity. (W.H. Vanstone quote from Waiting with Purpose, p. 87)
So when you find yourself in a helpless state, know that you are not alone and that God longs to reach you in your suffering.
Preparing for Mission
When we suffer, we gain wisdom and life experience that cannot be replicated by books or rhetoric. Our experiences, then, shape us fundamentally. They make us stronger, more compassionate, and resilient. Even more, they lead us to mission.
You probably didn’t ask for your sickness or your child’s disability or your spouse’s Alzheimer’s. You didn’t want to lose a friend to addiction or a parent to cancer. Yet all of these atrocities can lead us to accompany others who are suffering similar afflictions. We are more equipped to handle their pain when we have already been through our own journey of grief.
Entering Your Resurrection
I learned something extraordinary while researching my book, Waiting with Purpose: all of the Greek verbs used to describe Jesus’ life and ministry were in the active tense until He was handed over in the Garden of Gethsemane. He spoke to His apostles at the Last Supper, “My work is finished” but immediately before expiring, “It is finished.” These are powerful examples of how working isn’t the be-all-end-all to life’s meaning and value.
Your true work is to suffer with Jesus and learn to suffer well. This doesn’t mean perfectly – just well. That means you will have moments when offering up your pain in solidarity with Jesus’ or someone else’s pain is effortless and other times when it’s impossible. The point is to keep moving forward in your own passion, knowing with confidence that your own Calvary journey will lead you to new life in Resurrection, whether in this life or the next.
This post was adapted from Chapter 6 in my book, Waiting with Purpose: Persevering When God Says “Not Yet.”