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More on Waiting
dealing with anxiety in an existential springtime
I’m praying that God blesses you in a major way today. Text back later to tell me what the blessing was.
I received this message in a text from a friend one day at work, about eleven years ago. I had zero doubt that God would answer my friend’s prayer; he was one of the most spiritual people I knew. So I walked around that day with my eyes peeled for blessings.
Then I saw a piece of paper on a bulletin board in the mailroom that looked as if it had dropped straight from heaven:
It was a job posting.
It was a job that seemed to have my name written on it.
I gathered letters of recommendation, spiffed up my resume, wrote a compelling letter of interest, ordered transcripts from college and high school. I even had a mental image–a vision, if you will–of what I would wear to the job interview: gray pants, black shirt, silver watch: Utilitarian, yet ornamental. Exactly my working style. I obeyed the vision; I went to Target and bought the interview outfit.
A couple of months came and went. No one called me for an interview. I was crushed with disappointment. To heal my wounds, I created a disappointment ceremony for myself: I put on my interview clothes, went to a park, strummed a few sad chords on my guitar, wrote part of a song.
But (perhaps appropriately so) my disappointment ceremony was disappointing. The sun was too hot; the grass was too spiky; the song I wrote was dumb.
About three weeks later, I got the call to come in for an interview. Things moved quickly after that, and I had the job within a week.
I was having dinner with a group of friends and acquaintances, and there were two women there whom I thought were the raddest ladies I had ever met. I wanted to be friends with them, but I didn’t think the feeling was mutual. As I basked in their coolness, I thought, These women are awesome! Too bad they hate me.
Fortunately, this was just early-stage-of-friendship jitters. In time, the three of us went on to be very close friends.
I had similar feelings of anxiety when I began dating my husband, when pregnant with my daughter (after first experiencing a miscarriage), or whenever anything in my life was new and fragile.
I spoke of seasons of waiting in my post on existential winter. There is a season of waiting in an existential springtime, too, and in some ways, this season of waiting can be even more agonizing than the deathlike hush of winter.
Because, if you’ve ever been disappointed, hopes and expectations can be painful.
You see growth: very fragile, very small. How do you nurture that growth without either overwatering or over-neglect?
As a person who has a hard time keeping houseplants alive, I understand that there is a delicate balance when it comes to nurturing new life.
How many times do you call and inquire about the job? How often do you reach out to a potential new friend?
This relates to spiritual growth too, where there is an ebb and flow of emotions and experiences.
When I was young, I was a bit of a revival-chaser. To be clear, I am in favor of revival; I pray for it often. I am in favor of spiritual experiences; I believe they can be life-changing. But when I was young, I struggled because I didn’t seem to have the experiences with God that other people seemed to have.
One time, after one of these revival meetings, I sat alone against the wall in the church hallway, feeling dejected. A man came up to me and said, “You look like you’ve had a meaningful time with the Lord. Would you pray for my friend who’s in the hospital? And I will pray for you.”
I nodded my assent, though I didn’t think I’d had a meaningful time with the Lord.
“Read John 15,” he told me, as he turned around to leave.
I read John 15. It didn’t make much of an impact on my life at that time. It wasn’t what I particularly wanted to hear. I wanted to hear something like “those who know their God will be mighty and do exploits.” Or “you have come into the kingdom for such a time as this.” Something grand and destiny-filled.
But John 15 has grown on me over the years. I keep coming back to it. You can read the chapter for yourself, but I will share verse 14 here (this is Jesus speaking):
“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
As a child, I was fascinated with the way plants grow. You can see that the plants have grown, but you can’t actually watch them grow. This happens now with my growing children: Sometimes their growth is so imperceptible that I don’t notice it. (Until my four-year-old gets stuck in a baby swing, and I finally realize he isn’t a baby anymore.)
When some area of my life begins to grow, I see the green buds, then the leaves, but I’m thinking, “there are no flowers yet.” Then the flowers come and go, and I’m thinking, “there’s no fruit yet.”
Every good thing begins microscopically, and growth is not something you can watch in real time with your physical eyes.
I know that growth takes time. So why is it that I have so much fear in this time of waiting?
It’s because I am afraid that the growth will stop. That this new, precious thing will die before it matures.
And the reality is that we do experience loss and death. Sometimes those fragile green beginnings don’t come to anything.
But this is where John 15 helps me. I know that it is God’s will for me to flourish spiritually, to have a fruitful life, and He promises me that, if I remain in him, I will bear much fruit.
Remaining. Staying with him. Not running off and giving up. Being faithful.
Realizing that true spiritual fruitfulness and growth (and every other kind of growth) comes from my connection to–my relationship with– God. Not from my own schemes and efforts and anguish.
Realizing that the my growth pattern and the way my life bears fruit may be different from what I envisioned for myself.
Fighting the anxious thoughts that plague me and threaten to rob me of peace.
“My peace I leave to you; my peace I give to you.” (John 14:27)
“Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for him.” (Ps. 37:7)