Five ways to make waiting spiritually profitable
Every time I leave my house, I’m amazed at how impatient and frenzied the world has become. It seems as if most people are striving to stay busy with family activities, work, and pursuing the “perfect” life of health and wealth. As a whole, there’s an unspoken agreement among those of us in Western society: that productivity and autonomy are the highest goods for us to achieve. Weakness is then perceived in the form of helplessness — when you’re rendered dependent on someone else to care for you, because you just had surgery or have been gravely ill.
Spiritually speaking, waiting is an invitation for us to grow closer to God. It is loosely related to the virtue of fortitude, in which we pursue the arduous good. Scripture is full of evidence that waiting many years, decades, or even generations does result in abundant blessings from God. Think of the beloved Old Testament stories: Abraham and Sarah waiting for a son; Moses and the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years; Noah and his family patiently building the ark, and others.
If you are restless right now, because you are in a season of waiting, here are five ways you can make this time spiritually profitable.
Listen to what God is speaking to your heart.
We aren’t going to understand why life seems to be at a halt until we discipline ourselves to listen. We’re not looking for that thunderous boom or shattering earthquake, but instead for that “still, small voice” deep within our hearts. There’s something specific God wants to teach you while you wait, but you have to ask him what that is. Take time every day to quiet your heart and mind, enter into his sacred presence, and listen to the words he is speaking to you right now.
Ponder the words of Scripture.
After you establish the habit of daily silence in solitude — retreating to the “cell of your heart,” as St. Alphonsus Liguori once wrote — it’s important to then read the word of God to discover specific ways God is speaking to you. If you’re not sure where to begin, try the Laudate app (Google Play link here; Apple link here) for daily readings or a liturgical companion, like Living with Christ. If you’re familiar with lectio divina, try reading the entire passage aloud, slowly. Read it a second time and write down key words or phrases that strike you.
Pray in dialogue with God.
You will usually find clues in the words or verses that convict your heart through Scripture. Take what you wrote down, and start asking God questions. “What did you mean by this?” or “How can I begin working on this today?” Then pause and listen to his response. Sometimes it will be in the form of an idea, a song, or a particular longing. Pay attention to this and keep bringing these back into conversation with God. Your relationship with him deepens as you alternate between speaking and listening to him.
Prepare for what God is asking you to do.
Before my first book was published, I kept receiving words in my daily Scripture reading such as, “I have created you for a definite purpose” or “Do not be afraid of what you will say, because I will give you the words in the moment you need them.” These are definitely paraphrases, but I took them back to conversation and asked God what he wanted me to do. Through the aid of spiritual direction, it took about a year for the clarity to notice that I was supposed to write a book on the topic of grief.
When God prepares you for something specific, it will take time to materialize. You may think you understand exactly what to do, but be patient and keep going back to your conversations with God. It’s helpful, at this point, to confide in your pastor or spiritual director, because they can offer you wisdom on whether or not you should pursue what you think God is asking of you.
At this point, waiting won’t feel like such a chore anymore, because you have learned to utilize your time for deep thought, expressions of gratitude and love, and listening with the heart. You have developed the gift of receptivity.
Act upon the movements of the Holy Spirit.
Never act after a period of waiting until you are certain it is the appropriate time. It can be difficult to discern timing, but God usually makes details fall into place as your period of waiting draws to a close. Remember that this can take years or decades of your life, so it’s important to genuinely surrender to God’s plan.
He often asks you to wait, because he is securing important aspects of his plan that are invisible to you. His timing, versus your own, is very important to wait for. For instance, my husband and I wrote a book over two years ago that was turned down by multiple publishers for various reasons. Only recently did we land a publishing contract, and the acquisitions editor told us it was the “perfect timing” for this particular genre of book.
Keep in mind that God may ask you to do something that scares you. Don’t be afraid to say yes to him and follow where he leads, even if it is to do something you’ve never done before or don’t really want to do. If you are faithful in both the waiting and the responding, your life will bear incredible spiritual fruit — the fruit that will remain.