It always feels like I am waiting for something — or many things. Life will finally work when I am getting a good sleep at night again; when the house is cleaned up; when the book I have ordered arrives and has all the answers; when the to-do list has been checked off; or when I finally grow up and get what I want. The ordinary time of autumn brings out an especially burning ache for things to fall into place.
Somewhere along the road I walked to this moment, I picked up the expectation that my life is supposed to fall into place, that I ought to arrive at some “happily ever after” in which everything I want or hope for is in my possession and stays there. Despite my days being filled with the sounds of children, meaningful work, the love of a spouse and many more blessings, I often find myself waiting for this or that to happen so things can be just right.
Ecclesiastes 3 has been an echo in my heart for the better part of a year: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” The writer goes on to list all these times and seasons, for mourning and dancing, living and dying, speaking and silence. Though waiting is not listed, I suspect it is covered by the “every activity” business in the opening line.
But I have such preferences about these activities, welcoming some and rejecting others, drawing deeply from the joy and laughter and spitting out the sadness and restraint with the grieving and the dying. I want the world to be my way, on my time. I want to hold time and what happens within it in my hands. Worse still, I convince myself that if things went my way I would finally have my happiness, peace and joy.
When my kids have one of those miraculous days where they all have a good day at the same time, when my husband shakes his head and folds the towels the “right way,” when one of my ideas takes shape in a meeting or when I think of just the right thing to say at just the right time, I am not satisfied. And I am what all these expectations have in common.
At the end of the oft-quoted passage at the beginning of Ecclesiastes, there is a frequently ignored verse that God and I are wrestling with right now: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (3:11).
What if we are made to thirst for a timelessness that cannot be satiated in time? What if this restlessness does not need to be rejected? What if I can love myself and others and be loved even when I have ridiculous expectations that are not being met?
A poem found me in this questioning state and offered some rest: “who told you that you were permitted to settle in?/who told you that this or that would last forever?/did no one ever tell you that you will never/in the world/feel at home in the world?” (“Untitled” by Stanslaw Baranczak)
I do not know who told me, or who I have told. The lie has been repeated through my lifetime and throughout human history. I have chosen to believe it, and I have chosen my frustration and misery every time. I get so frustrated when my little ones build Lego creations they want to keep forever. I sneak in after bedtime and take apart a few blocks so there are some to add totomorrow’s inventions. And here I am, day after day, clinging to the things I want to stay the same and waiting impatiently for them to change without requiring me to let go.
All of this life I am living has a beauty to it, an arc of something being created and taken apart at the same time. Then, by surprise, I forget to keep waiting and stop focusing on what I wish was real — and I get caught up in what is.
And then things are. Totally perfect. For a moment.
Soap bubbles glistening in the kitchen sink when my favourite song is playing. A hug from my husband. All green lights when I am in a hurry. A bowl of soup and a warm bed when I am sick. Perfectly calm water while I float on a boat in sunshine. A word of encouragement when I am afraid. Rain falling when my world feels like it is falling apart.
We do not get to possess these moments, to store them up and organize them, to frame and preserve them. We get to live them and let them go. When I remember that, I stop waiting for life to be this or that and begin to allow life to unfold as it is, trusting that this time is right for the activity that lies before me.
The world is in a rush, daring me to join a frenetic pace that promises satisfaction later. Increasingly, I am resisting that urge. I am making peace with my restlessness by thanking God for giving me a heart for eternity. I am carefully releasing my grip on my expectations by begging for the grace to see what is beautiful now. The moments do not have to last to be gifts. I need not settle in only when I am comfortable. Moment by moment I can make my home in what is, trusting that God has all things held in his time.
Photo credits: Sandy Normand