Staying at home isn’t so bad. We quickly adapt to a new “at home” routine. With home-cooked meals, we are probably eating healthier. We are spending more time with family. That can be both positive and negative, depending on the family dynamics. We finally get to those projects that we’ve put off for months or years, like cleaning out the garage or going through storage boxes and deciding what to save, what to give to the Salvation Army, and what to throw out. But, after we have run out of projects, and after seven weeks of this, we begin to ask, “How long will this social distancing last?”
We haven’t been able to visit grandkids or friends. Worse, those of us who have family in retirement communities or hospitals cannot make visits. How long can we wait to see our loved ones? How long can we wait before seeing a dentist or getting a haircut? When will we be able to enjoy a birthday celebration at our favorite restaurant? When can we dance again or cheer on our favorite sports team?
The answer to “how long” depends on who you ask. Public Health professionals talk about twelve to eighteen months. Governors and Mayors say they are moving as fast as possible to re-open the State or the city. The White House gives us “aspirational” time-tables. Some Medical doctors suggest we have to wait until there is a vaccine. Some pastors preach that this is the beginning of the end-time. The Apocalypse is coming soon, and they are not referring to the movies. With all of the conflicting answers, we are still left with the question, “How long will this last?”
It may be of little comfort to know that we are not the first generation to ask that question. The people of Israel who wandered in the Wilderness asked Moses, “How long will this last?” During the Exile in Babylon, Israelites asked, “How long before we can return to Jerusalem?” The Psalms and Lamentations repeat the refrain, “How long, O Lord?” For example, from Psalm 131:2 “How long O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” or Psalm 6: 3 “My soul is in deep anguish. How long?” Psalm 89:46 “How long, Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?” Then there is the prophet Habakkuk (1:1-4) How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?”
These are a few examples to make my point that we are not the first generation to ask the question, “How long, O Lord.” The faithful of every age have had to wait on the Lord. Some wait for relief from suffering, while others wait for the Apocalypse. It is interesting to me that the word “wait” in Spanish (Espera) is the same as hope (Esperar or Esperanza). “Waiting for” and “hoping for” are emotionally and spiritually on the same page. “My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen who wait for the morning.” (Psalm 130) The sick wait for an answer to prayers for healing. The unemployed wait for a job offer. Those who suffer through the darkness of grief wait for the light of a new day when joy is restored.
Let me ask, “Is there a spirituality of waiting?” What is the spirituality of waiting for something with hope and expectation? We hope for that which we lack. “Who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:24-25) Perhaps St. Paul hoped with patience, but not all of us have that spiritual quality. Some of us wait with impatience or even desperation. There’s the spirituality of waiting to be rescued, waiting to be saved, waiting for salvation, waiting for healing, and waiting for the return of joy. The spirituality of waiting suggests that there might be something we can do while we are waiting. It reminds me of the elderly lady who has fallen on the floor, and while she is there, she looks around for something to do.
As long as we are staying home for an extended period and while we are asking, “How long will this last?” we may as well ask ourselves, “What can we do while we wait?” Is there a spiritual benefit to waiting? Is there a value to waiting with hope? While we wait, can we find new life meaning and purpose? One of my favorite images of waiting with hope is that of the groom waiting for the bride to show up for the wedding. The anticipation (mixed with anxiety) is palpable. So I ask myself, “What is my spirituality of waiting?”
Allow me to be so bold as to challenge each of us to ask, “While I wait for this chapter to end, what can I learn about the longing of my soul?”