*Just idle ramblings on stuff I’m reading for Advent this year. I read Isaiah 7 today…
“You can get so confused, that you’ll start in to race, down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace, and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space…
…headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…
…Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come,
or a plane to go or the mail to come,
or the rain to go or the phone to ring,
or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.”
–Dr. Seuss, in Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
“And it feels, and it feels like
Heaven’s so far away
And it feels, yeah it feels like
The world has grown cold
Now that you’ve gone away”
–The Offspring, from “Gone Away”
In the late 8th century B.C., the king of Judah had to make deal. See, Israel and Syria banded together to stand against the threatening Assyrians and were planning to take over Judah as part of that plan. Fighting for the survival of his country, Ahaz wanted to send cash (and lots of it) to the Assyrians for protection.
Spoiler alert: Dealing with an enemy that has the leverage is like living with a rattlesnake. Eventually it will bite. You don’t know when. In the interim between the deal and the bite, fear gripped Ahaz and his people. The Bible describes it as “the hearts of the people shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind.”
Enter Isaiah with a message from God. The prophet let Ahaz know that Israel and Syria wouldn’t be an issue for Judah…and side note, if you trust God on this, your nation will survive. If you go about it another way (like cash and lots of it) things will not end well. Spoiler alert: Ahaz spent the cash and lots of it.
The rattlesnake would bite and things would get dark within decades. God, however, offers comfort that Ahaz’ decision wouldn’t be the end of Israel: “Behold, a maiden will be with child and bear a son, and she will can His name Immanuel.” The bottom line: Things will get tough and stay tough for a long while, but somewhere down the line, God will deliver His people.
Then the clock started counting down on Judah…and the clock on their dark, long “waiting place” would begin.
Far be it for me to disagree a bit with Dr. Seuss, but the waiting place doesn’t have to be “a most useless place.” You can get a lot done at the bus stop or train station. A trip to the mailbox can bring all sorts of surprises (Christmas cards, anyone? Wedding invitations, anyone?). A ringing phone can change life as you know it. New snow always looks good to me. The “yes” or “no” is a revelation. A cancer patient’s new head of hair is pretty great, too.
All of Dr. Seuss’ instances of people just waiting assumes passivity…but there’s active hope built right in. You believe the bus or train will take you where you want to go. That the mailman will bring the mail. Folks will call. Winter will come. You will get your questions answered. Your hair will grow.
See, there’s a lot you can do while you wait. Around 150 years after Ahaz’ deal, the prophet Jeremiah wound up in the midst of the darkness after the fall of Jerusalem. He wrote these words to tell them during their exile: “Build houses and live, and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. And seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.”
In short: live well while you wait…even if it feels like God isn’t with you, well, your feelings are lying to you. They’ll do that here and again. “Immanuel” means “God with us” after all. Remember that when your feelings lie to you.
I’d be lying if I said I felt like God is with me right now. I’m in a season of waiting myself. Granted it hasn’t been some 700 years of waiting…it’s only been about six months. I don’t seem to have bus fare or plane tickets. The mail has been discouraging (got no less than four rejections for jobs on Friday alone). The phone isn’t ringing. Winter isn’t even really winter here in Dallas. There have been plenty of “no” answers and a dearth of “yes.” My hair is growing even if it seems like my hairline recedes at a noticeable rate.
Nobody seems to think I can be a good pastor these days. Nobody seems to think I can be a good teacher these days…at least on a full-time basis. I’m still waiting on what God wants me to do vocationally while I am quite clear on my calling (there is a difference).
It feels like God is so far away.
My feelings are lying.
And I will choose to live in my mini-darkness. I will love my wife well. I will enjoy my family and friends and dogs. I will embrace the Kingdom glimpses in my neighborhood and work days. I will enjoy good books and see movies and watch football. I will grade master’s level papers. I will eat good food and enjoy good drinks and time around tables. I will enjoy good sunsets from my roof and crane my neck to see other little glimpses of Him in the everyday interim.
Because my feelings of divine abandonment and personal inadequacy and the myriad of pity-party inducing emotions are lying to me.
Waiting is not useless. God is with me.
I want that to be enough…