Welcome to the Waiting with Purpose Book Club! We’re reading Waiting with Purpose by Jeannie Ewing.
First, congratulations on such a lovely book – both in its appearance and the contents. While waiting is a universal experience, I think it particularly resonates with mothers, who often are waiting first on a child’s birth, but in every subsequent stage of development and oftentimes throughout each day, seeking only to survive until bedtime. I hope that many moms and others will take to heart the wisdom you share in turning waiting into an opportunity to draw closer to God.
We each experience waiting daily and repeatedly over the course of a lifetime, both in large and small ways. What audience do you think will derive the most benefit from Waiting with Purpose (i.e., for whom is it written)?
I was writing mainly for adults who go through long bouts of waiting – maybe due to unexpected illness or injury or disability. Also to mothers, as you mentioned, who understand the “pregnancy” of waiting, spiritually speaking. But as a caregiver to a daughter with a rare disease, I thought very much of the countless people we encounter in hospital or outpatient waiting rooms, laboratories, therapists’ offices, and so on.
Publishing is, at least in my experience, the business of waiting. At every step, there is waiting – in the writing, the editing, the querying, the production, etc. Was there a particular instance of waiting in bringing this book to fruition that especially resonated with you and the book’s message?
Yes, so this was another aspect of waiting I kept in mind as I wrote the book. Like you mentioned, my own experience with writing, editing, and publishing has been so agonizing at times. I’d say before the manuscript was even a figment of an idea, God placed the words “waiting” or “wait” in my heart on a near-daily basis.
Often it was in Scripture I read, particularly the Psalms, or maybe I book I came across that really appealed to me (three of which were integral in the research of my own book). So I wasn’t exactly sure what I was supposed to write about, but waiting was just this theme of my life, much like grief was (and still is). I wanted to understand more deeply and clearly what God wants of us when we wait and what its purpose may be for those of us who struggle with fear in uncertain times.
Throughout the book, you return to the idea that we are more than what we do, that our value lies not in our productivity but in our mere existence. I often say that we are “human beings,” not “human doings.” What do you think is the biggest obstacle to valuing people over production in modern American culture?
The biggest obstacle lies in our world view. Even many Christians do not carry a Christian world view that shapes their lives. What I mean is that we often unintentionally adopt the secular notion that “success” means busyness or acquisition of wealth and material goods, rather than what it means as a Christian – holiness. We also believe that work is inherent to our identity, and as you mentioned, doing is more comfortable than being.
The technological revolution has undoubtedly contributed to our shifting world view. I am not exempt from this. I have found it increasingly difficult to truly discipline myself for stillness and silence, mainly because I’ve become accustomed to accessing information immediately – without waiting.
We have to get back to a place where we deeply accept that our identity is as God’s beloved son or daughter – not in what we do, but in the fact that we exist. I have met so many beautiful people who are nonverbal, cognitively impaired, and non-ambulatory. They are not able to love as we understand it – to actively speak love or perform acts of service or kindness. Yet their very existence begs us to love them by way of our own sacrificing. When we encounter such visible brokenness, we cannot help but acknowledge the reality that the gift of humanity is simply because we are all unique reflections of God.
Brokenness, to me, is also a living icon of the brokenness of Christ that He chose. And in that vulnerability, brokenness becomes a portal for authentic Christian love.
I find my days filled with many instances of what I’ll call “micro-waiting,” those fractions of seconds in which I wait for a page to load, an app to open, or a person to respond. I notice I’m eager to fill those moments by doing something else, whether clicking on something or occupying my hands. How can we bring value to those momentary waits?
Yes, such a good point! I also struggle with this, and in the conversations I’ve had with others, it seems to be a ubiquitous problem. “Micro-waiting” can be offered as a sacrifice to God. Let’s say you’re standing in a long line and are tempted to scroll through your phone. Maybe the length of your waiting time is a couple of minutes at most. Resist the temptation to become impatient or fill your mind with restless or agitated thoughts. Say a prayer of offering to God – maybe a simple prayer – that He might sanctify that moment and help you grow in virtue.
We can also use moments of “micro-waiting” to bring goodness to another person. When I am frustrated at the course of events in my day and happen to be standing in a long grocery line, instead of becoming grumpy, I try to intentionally smile at those around me and compliment the cashier. There are many small ways we can, as St. Teresa of Calcutta said, to do small things with great love.
For most of us, suffering is quite naturally dreaded in its every manifestation in our lives. You describe that suffering as often being a period of passive waiting. What is it that we need to take to heart in order to embrace suffering as you suggest rather than to avoid it at all costs, as is our proclivity?
I think the biggest revelation to me was in learning that Jesus said, “My work is complete” at the Last Supper, yet His life had not yet ended. Then He said, “It is finished” before expiring on the Cross. To me, that spoke volumes about how we need to live. Only a couple of weeks ago, our pastor said, “The path of Jesus is our path, too.” It’s so true. We all want to skip suffering and head straight to the glory of Resurrection, but we can’t. We have to remember that something more important than work, productivity, busyness, and activity await us – and that is our own passion, our own Calvary journeys.
Embracing that suffering is a very personal journey. There is no panacea for “how to suffer well.” We’ve all heard to “offer it up,” which has become an unfortunate cliché. But I believe it’s about consciously choosing to die little deaths each day, to do acts of mortification as offerings to console Jesus and to make reparation for our sins and those of the whole world (to echo the Divine Mercy message).
As I was reading Waiting with Purpose, the words we hear at every Mass echoed in my mind: ” … as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of Our Savior, Jesus Christ.” It reminded me that our entire lives are, in essence waiting. How critical is it, then, that we bring purpose and meaning to what otherwise can be a frustrating experience which, at worst, alienates us from God?
Yes! “We wait in joyful hope” was the very topic of an Advent retreat I did based on my book. You’re absolutely right that all of our lives is about waiting. What has helped me to wait is to remember that God brings about fruition and fulfillment in His time. It’s all about timing. I can’t possibly be privy to every little detail behind the scenes that He is moving in order for something to fall into place in my life.
This can be said for the pain of praying for the right spouse when we’re single and thinking we’ll “never get married.” It can be said when we’re job hunting or just haven’t “found the right fit.” For times of infertility. When a loved one suffers from cancer or Alzheimer’s. When we’re injured or ill.
Everything – absolutely everything – has a divine purpose. God does not waste anything, nor should we. If we see the moments – however brief or extended they may be – as opportunities to turn our hearts heavenward, to thank or praise Him, then our lives will not be wasted, either.
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Copyright 2018 Carolyn Astfalk