Lately, I feel like my prayer has sounded something like the beginning of Psalm 13:
How long, Lord? Will you utterly forget me?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I carry sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look upon me, answer me, Lord, my God!
(**side note: I love the Psalms. The more I read and pray with them, the more I am drawn to the honesty in their poetry—the beauty of sheer humanity crying out to God, in all conditions of the heart.**)
For what feels like an incredibly long time now, God has been speaking to me this message:
If you’re thinking that I’ve already written about this topic, you’re right—I’m just still waiting. The difference now is that my knowledge of what waiting means is taking on a new breadth and depth as I’m still being asked to wait, as I’m continually challenged in waiting, as I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to wait and trust in the Lord. Hm. This must be really important…because everything I pray ends up being answered with that same four-letter word: W.A.I.T. (ugh). And, in my stubbornness, I reply, “How long, Lord?” (Hello, whiny Israelites, anyone? Ps 95: “When at Meribah and Massah, they challenged me and provoked me, although they had seen all my works…”)
As I was praying this morning, I felt really frustrated—like I was just yelling out Psalm 13! And all of a sudden, I had a flash of perspective; I realized that getting frustrated with God wasn’t getting me anywhere, least of all closer to being done with waiting. I began to recall my 8-day silent retreat last year—one of the questions Br. John challenged me to ask was, “Lord, how do you want me to wait?” (yes…I was waiting then as well. Seems to be a theme…).
So I started praying that instead—“Lord, how do you want me to wait?”—which is quite a different question from “How long, Lord?” Because really, this life with Christ is FULL of waiting. Pick up the Bible! Open it up to any book, and you will find people waiting: Adam waiting for Eve, Sarah (and a whole host of other women) waiting for a long-promised and hoped-for child, the Israelites waiting to enter the Promised Land, David waiting to hear the voice of the Lord, the Jewish people waiting for the Messiah, the Apostles waiting for the Resurrection, all of humanity waiting for the new Heaven and earth of Jesus’ second coming. We are a people who WAIT—and don’t like it! But God keeps asking us to do it! So really, the HOW is the key.
God is proving to me time and time again that He really does answer prayers—I just have to learn how to ask the right things! Once I stopped asking “how long?” and started asking “how?” He was ready and willing to clarify; specifically through today’s Gospel story of the Syrophoenician woman’s faith (Mark 7:24-30). To summarize: a non-Jewish woman makes a request of Jesus, and He answers, for all intents and purposes, “no” (or, really, “not yet”). Then, this incredibly bold woman renews her request (with that famous line, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps”). She knows and believes Jesus can do anything—and she’s probably heard that He’s already broken all sorts of conventional rules at this point. So she boldly and trustingly approaches Him again after His initial response, with a simply astonishing amount of humility (I mean, a dog.)…and it’s at this point that Jesus grants her request.
This is not the first—or the only—time in the Gospel when Jesus reacts like this. In fact, Fr. Jean C.J. d’Elbee points out, in I Believe in Love, that Jesus responds to professions and acts of faith, above all else: “That is the great question, the condition for the miracle. ‘Do you believe that I can do it? Do you believe that I am going to do it? […] Because God loves you, He wants to see how far you will push your confidence. He wants to be able to say to you, as He did to the Canaanite woman, ‘How great is your faith!’” (50).
That’s the point, really. God is asking me to choose Him—that act of choosing that is at the heart of faith. To believe in Love even when (especially) He says “no” or “not yet” or “wait.” To be able to always say (even though it might be through gritted teeth sometimes), “Lord, I trust in you. I know that your plans for my life are greater than anything I could imagine. I believe and hope in your desire to bless my life. Today, I choose to wait on you, and I trust that you will answer.”
How will I wait? With a bold trust in a God who I believe can work all sorts of miracles and blessings in my life—and who wants to.
I wait for you, O Lord;
I lift up my soul to my God.
In you I trust; do not let me be disgraced;
[…]No one is disgraced who waits for you,
but only those who lightly break faith.
[…] For you I wait all the long day,
because of your goodness, Lord.
[…] My eyes are ever upon the Lord
[…] I wait for you, O Lord.
“Do not be afraid; just have faith…” (Luke 8: 50).
“Trust God and he will help you; make straight your ways and hope in him. […] has anyone hoped in the Lord and been disappointed?” (Sirach 2:6, 10).