By Melody Wilson Shobe
When I was a child, I went to a Baptist summer camp in the mountains of North Carolina every year. I tell my current Episcopal congregation that the reason I know my Bible so well is because of all those summers at Baptist camp, and I’m only partly joking. Because in addition to all of the other usual camp activities like archery, swimming, horseback riding, and arts and crafts, we had group Bible studies and worship. We also had challenges where we were asked to memorize Bible verses. It might seem silly to some, but it was a foundational experience for me. Now, 20 years later, I can still recite the books of the Bible in order and remember the challenge verse from each year of summer camp.
One of the verses that I memorized all those years ago was Psalm 27:14 “Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and he will strengthen your heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord.” It was actually a pretty easy verse to memorize; it is short and simple and even has some repetition. And yet, while the words are simple, the call that those words issue is anything but easy.
Because, you see, I’m not very good at waiting. I get impatient if the person scheduled to meet me is running a little bit late, or if my husband takes longer than I do to get ready to leave. I try to find new and different routes from my home to the church, so that I don’t have to spend as much time waiting at stop lights. In the grocery store, I make a mad dash to find the shortest checkout line, so that I don’t have to wait an extra minute or two to purchase my groceries.
If I am not good at waiting in the world, then I am not any better at waiting on the Lord. I get panicked when the things in my life do not work out on my schedule, and I have a hard time remembering that God might have a different timeline than I do. The process of placement out of seminary and the process of job searching for myself and my husband this time around has, more often than not, involved a great deal of waiting. And I have to confess, I have not been good at waiting on the Lord. I find myself wide awake in my bed, staring at the ceiling, making lists in my head, trying to figure out what I can do to make things move more quickly. Waiting, for me, is much easier said than done, much easier memorized than lived.
At the heart of it, my problem with waiting is really an issue of control. I want to be in control of my life. I don’t want to let stoplights, or grocery store cashiers, my husband, or even God, control the timing in my life. I want to have power over what happens and when it happens. It is, perhaps, a natural inclination, but it is also a spiritual issue. My unwillingness to wait is, fundamentally, an unwillingness to trust God, and to give over my life, from the small details to the big picture, to God’s care and control.
If I am honest with myself, I know that waiting is an important spiritual practice. It forces me to let go of the death grip that my hands have on the details of my life and acknowledge that God’s desires are more important than my wishes. It reminds me that trusting God and waiting on the Lord, as difficult as they might be, are essential to the Christian life. And if I take a moment, and look back over the times in the past that I have been called to sit and wait, with baited breath and badly bitten nails, I can see that God has always, always, come through in the end.
As the psalmist says, waiting takes courage and strength: the courage and strength to let go of the tight grip I have on the steering wheel of my life, and let God take the driver’s seat for a while. I have to have the courage and strength to take the words that I recited so glibly as a child and make them the reality of the life that I live as an adult. So today, as I face a season of my life that has a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety, I will try to pray and to live the words of Psalm 27:14. Perhaps they will bring you, too, some comfort, as you face times of indecision, transition, and waiting in your life. “Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and he will strengthen your heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord.”
The Rev. Melody Wilson Shobe is Assistant Rector at a church in the Diocese of Texas. She is a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary and is married to fellow priest The Rev. Casey Shobe.