Remember This When You’re Waiting Endlessly, or It Feels Like It
Waiting for suffering to end and relief to come would be so much easier if we knew the end date. If someone delivered the message, “You just have to hold on for x more days, and then your prayers are going to be answered,” most of us would muster up the courage and grit to wait it out faithfully. But that’s rarely what waiting endlessly looks like.
Waiting endlessly is more like a dense cloud where we lack clarity and hope feels slippery and hard to grasp. Numbing out becomes incredibly tempting because what we really want to do is scream, “I just can’t stand this.” Taking matters into our own hands becomes equally tempting, and dependence on God feels risky. We’re told to trust Him in the storm, and that can be easier said than done. Actually, it’s always easier said than done.
I’m coming through a season of waiting endlessly that I pray I don’t need to repeat. Never have I felt less in control and never have I been more desperate to fix things and speed up the process of healing. There were so many moments when I wanted to give up–when it took everything I had to hold on to a shred of hope, believing against all evidence that God was present in that very moment and He was at work.
The perspective of these circumstances caused me to look at a passage in Exodus 24 with totally new eyes. Prior to these verses, Moses had led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. God had brought them to Mount Sinai where He was about to give them the Ten Commandments, which were to help them learn how to live as beloved children instead of as slaves.
In preparation for this monumental shift, Moses and a band of key leaders were taken aside by God. On the side of the mountain, “they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness…they beheld God.” (Ex. 24:10,11). This had to have been the most mind-blowing spiritual experience. You would think it would have been seared in their memories forever. How could they ever question whether or not God was real? They had seen Him.
Then God called Moses to come closer, leaving the leaders behind, beckoning him further up the mountain. Moses delegated his authority to his brother Aaron and Hur, and obeyed God. These two men had been critical support to Moses during a battle the Israelites faced with the Amalekites. During that battle, Moses, Aaron and Hur climbed to the top of a hill. As long as Moses’ hands were raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, the Amalekites were stronger. We read in Exodus 17:12 that Moses’ hands grew tired, so Aaron and Hur took a rock and put it under him. At the same time, they supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so his hands remained steady. And the Israelites won the battle. These were faithful friends.
Picking up again in Exodus 24, “Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.” (Exodus 24:17-18)
Picture what this must have been like–how terrifying it had to have been for Moses to enter into a cloud that looked like a devouring fire, all by himself. What was that experience like? Was it purifying? Overwhelming? How would it feel to have God reveal to you the new marching orders on how everyone was to live, to receive the Ten Commandments, in the middle of a dense cloud of God’s presence?
This passage makes me think of a journey my heroic husband has been on, one I have been secretly calling his SELAH. SELAH is a word found in the Bible that’s hard to define. Some scholars say it indicates a change in rhythm, a pause, a moment to stop and reflect. I like that definition and think it’s an apt description of times in our lives when we have something of a “before and after” moment. We stop and reflect, we are changed, and then journey forward, stronger and healthier.
It began with his prayer asking God to grow him in humility and closeness to Him. He prayed this quietly, and without fuss, with no idea what was just around the corner. A short time later, stress in his life increased and peaked, catapulting him into a season that certainly felt like and appeared to be a devouring fire. Was the suffering an answer to his prayer for greater spiritual growth? I don’t know. Perhaps. But it lasted, in its intensity, exactly forty days. For forty days, to the day, we had no idea what things would look like on the other side. We wondered if we would get there. His suffering was acute and isolating. The days and nights were filled with unrelenting waves of anxiety. Debilitating fear made his heart and mind pound constantly. A dark night of the soul filled him with spiritual doubts and that made everything even harder. The combination of very little sleep, no diagnosis, and no clear end date was overwhelming. While there is no question that his agony was the greater, it was also incredibly hard to stand by his side –unable to fix things or bring relief. When we deeply love someone, watching him or her suffer is its own form of anguish.
Waiting endlessly is more like a dense cloud where we lack clarity and hope feels slippery and hard to grasp. Numbing out becomes incredibly tempting because what we really want to do is scream, “I just can’t stand this.”
The thought occurred to me that as Moses walked through something that must have been frightening, he hoped that the vision the leaders had received of God would help them stay faithful in his absence. As he stood in the firestorm, being refined as a leader, preparing to lead his people to a life of true freedom, He was counting on Aaron and Hur to stay faithful and to keep everyone’s focus on God. He needed them to wait well–to not lose hope–to not give in to the temptation to take matters into their own hands. God was at work, even if they couldn’t see evidence of it through the dense cloud. They just needed to hold steady.
Maybe they could have done it for six days. Most of us can endure anything if it just lasts a week. But forty days? That’s a long time. It proved too much. Aaron and Hur forgot the vision of God, caved in to the people’s complaints, and created and worshipped a golden calf instead. They took matters into their own hands because after such a long wait, it felt like God was not going to come through.
How long are we willing to wait?
My friends, God always shows up. And not just at some remote time far in the future. He is at work now–right in this very moment that feels hopeless– in this current set of circumstances that seems without end. During the endless waiting, our job is to remember. When has He come through for you in the past? Dwell on this. Remember that our God is unchanging and He will rescue again.
Hold steady and rebuke the lie that says, “It’s all up to me.” The truth is, we have an all-powerful Rescuer who never leaves our side. Reject the lie that says, “Things will never change.” The darkest hour is the hour before dawn. Wait faithfully. The light will come.
The very thing that we think will destroy us can be what strengthens and heals us. Suffering brings all sorts of long-buried things to the surface. Sometimes it’s the only way God can get to those deep places in our hearts to set us free.
The psalmist wrote, “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13) I pray you would not lose heart, and would remain steadfast as the storm rages. God is in the waiting. He is at work. You will see His goodness unfold.
With love and prayers,
Founder and Chief Purpose Officer
Walking with Purpose