I was in the middle age of my life and a graduate student when I met Patrick Mooney, a priest-poet and guest lecturer. His engaging presence and presentation evoked a desire to serve in our student minds and hearts. Though I was then less inclined to speak my thoughts, surely fearful of receiving a reprimand for my audacity and a lower grade to boot, I yet dared to offer a small critique. “Your photographs only depict fair-skinned, blue-eyed children with curly blond hair. Where are the others?”
Then I gasped and held my breath. How would he react or respond? Interestingly, he noted my comment affirmatively. Then, we talked. He asked me a question in turn. “Have you ever run dry in your writing? Was there ever a moment when nothing came to you . . . absolutely nothing?”
I hemmed and hawed. In fact, I had not had that experience. Not yet, anyway. His next words came as a loving caution, a charity I’ve never forgotten. He said, “That day will come. And when it does, you will know for the first time that God loves you more for your efforts than for your successes.” The words were etched on my heart and offered frequently as solace to those for whom life, time, efforts seemed dusty dry and futile.
Then, it happened. The day and time came when my writing juices dried up. Not one decent thought came to me. I prayed and no words arrived. There was only a nagging remembrance of the conversation which had lain fallow for many years.
I tried to pray. Nada. I wanted to get a head start on my column. Nada. No words. No thoughts. Nothing came to me. Then I remembered Patrick Mooney and smiled. “You are absolutely right,” I thought—and the dam burst.
It’s not about writing. It’s about waiting. Wait for God. Wait on God. Wait with God. Wait to see. Wait to learn. Wait and listen. Wait and see. Wait!
Like a wide-open faucet, all the varieties of waiting poured into my mind, and I could scarcely wait to fire up my computer and write about it. A little word was suddenly a vibrant presence.
How often have I uttered—more pointedly, muttered—“Wait a minute!” to Hubby Dear. It was spoken tenderly in my more graceful, gentle moments, but with a vengeance when I was otherwise occupied and he was perceived as an unnecessary interruption. The words hadn’t changed. My delivery had! Overtones of annoyance could not be denied. “Wait a minute” had to be altered to a milder “Wait for a minute and I’ll be able to respond more kindly.”
“Wait for me” can be a command, a demand, or a plea. “Wait on me” might indicate a similar understanding. I am either requesting patience and assistance or exacting servile duty. “Wait with me” is similarly challenging.
Now armed with a different perspective, I discovered the power and presence of waiting everywhere. It made waiting in line at the grocery store an opportunity to chat with the checkout person or to offer my spot in line to someone who looked harried.
I can more easily wait for someone to tell a long, detailed story which I’ve already heard three or four times. (That “someone,” of course, will remain anonymous!)
To wait is to walk by faith. Waiting for inspiration is walking in the faith of its arrival—on time, in time, with time. Scripture is replete with episodes and promises of waiting. Hebrew people waited for a Messiah and experienced one who did not match their expectations. Their wait was not in vain. It was expanded as it evoked a different perspective.
It was, and I daresay yet is, similarly true of Christians. We have a disturbing Messiah who challenges us to wait well, long, carefully, and attentively. Wait with each other. Wait on each other. Wait for each other. Wait and discover the depth of faithfulness. Wait and find strengths we never realized were ours. Wait and know that the words will come, the aridity will be appeased.
Listen for the divine questioning: “Could you not wait one hour with me?” Look for the request Naomi offered Ruth: “Wait until you know how the matter turns out.” Wait in the shade with Jonah and in the ark with Noah. Wait with illness as well as health, in poverty or riches. Wait to eat with one another. Wait to leave and wait to return. Wait to listen and wait to speak. Wait for the reign of God and live now in its promise and call.
Wait with laughter. Wait with tears. Wait with sorrow and with joy. Wait in quivering anticipation and expectancy. Wait hoping against hope, believing in the midst of doubt. Wait tremblingly and wait in serenity. Wait to see and wait to tell. Wait to know and be known. Wait and walk with thoughts of God’s terrible tardiness, yet trusting in God’s presence even now, even here.
It’s not easy to do. Nothing of value is without price. No real treasure is attained without the labor of love. Yet, I know, I have learned, that we humans have been endowed with a capacity to wait which exceeds the limits we place on it. We live in a waiting room of heartfelt love as we pray for sight and insight. We wait for the cessation of aridity and welcome the rain of grace to ease the pain of pining.
God who waits with us promises never to leave. Divinity does not delay but arrives exactly when we most need and perhaps least expect. Those many years ago, Patrick Mooney was spot on. The day will come when emptiness prevails, when no thoughts arrive to inspire. On that day we will know, for the first time, that God loves us more for our efforts than for our successes.
I believe it. I know it. I’ve experienced it. Won’t you wait with me? ♦
Fran Salone-Pelletier holds a master’s degree in theology. She is the author of a trilogy of scriptural meditations, Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives, from which this essay is adapted. She is also a religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer, and grandmother of four. Reach her at email@example.com.