“They who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.” — Isaiah 40:31
Waiting is hard. It always has been, of course, but in the past few decades, we have increasingly become an instant gratification society. We used to have to wait for letters to complete transactions, and now we become frustrated if our internet is slow and something buffers for five seconds.
We have become a society that hates waiting for anything — food, technology, decisions.
And yet all of a sudden, here we are. With nothing but time, and uncertainty, and unanswered questions as we cry out, “How long, how long O Lord, must we wait in social isolation?”
In the midst of this pandemic, all we can do is wait. Wait and see what happens and how this all unfolds, our only control seemingly being to stay inside, stay apart and wait.
But that begs the question — how do we wait? Making a decision now about how we wait can make all the difference in how we get through the Great Separation. It’s only been a few weeks and people are already going stir crazy, and that is with the weather being rainy and dreary. When the sun comes out and the parks, beaches and lakes are closed, and we have actually watched everything on Netflix, this is going to be MUCH, MUCH harder.
That is why I think it is so important, from the outset, to make a conscious decision about how we are going to wait. And there is no better place to look for guidance then the book of Isaiah.
Isaiah, which is divided into three parts, tells the story of Jerusalem and its people before and then during their Babylonian exile, as they await a return to their homeland. The second part, from chapters 40-55, focuses on their yearning to return to their pre-exilic existence.
One of the most famous passages from this text is Isaiah 40:28-31:
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
I think it is applicable to us today as it was when it was during the sIxth century BCE, as it provides us with a roadmap during this time when all we can do is wait.
Because as Isaiah reminds us, waiting can make us exhausted if we focus inward. But if we are able to wait upon the Lord, we will be able to renew our strength and find peace for our spirit and soul.
But what does that mean? To wait upon the Lord? For the people of Jerusalem and the land of Judah, it meant to wait with hope and confidence that they would return from their time of exile. For us, I believe it means to focus beyond ourselves as we trust God even as we are socially distanced and facing times of physical peril and economic uncertainty.
One of the ways we can do that is by developing deliberate patterns and habits that will help us focus beyond our personal situation, to broaden our worlds even as we are contained within our own homes.
Some of the concrete ways we can do that are concrete actions each day that force us to look outward. Among the things we can do as we wait are:
- Taking time each morning with a prayer journal. Pray, but also write down the names of those for whom you are praying. If you have the time and opportunity, perhaps send them a text or note telling them you are praying for them
- Send notes or letters to others, especially those who are isolated and need support. My congregation provides addresses of members who are isolated. Perhaps yours can as well — support your pastor and start it.
- Spend time each day thinking of a way you can support those on the “front line.” By sending a note to medical professionals you know, sewing masks if that is in your wheelhouse, or volunteering to get groceries for someone who is at risk or at the food pantry.
- Make a list of people who have made a profound difference in your life and write them a thank-you note and send it to them, one to a different person each day. Maybe do 50 to celebrate the days of Easter or the number for how old you are or whatever number feels right to you. But share your gratitude right now. And do it with a handwritten note.
- Read through the news and stop and pray. Go through the list of those who have died and reflect on them and offer up prayers for their family.
- Memorize the words of a favorite hymn so you know all the words. That can provide comfort and solace in time of trouble.
- Find a Bible passage each week to memorize that reminds you of God’s presence or focuses your attention beyond yourself and toward God and others. Google passages for times of trial, or passages that give peace and strength. There are so many from which to choose.
- Call someone you know who may be alone or may be in need of support. Make a personal connection daily for support so you look beyond yourself.
- If you are not hit economically by this time, order a surprise gift for someone who may be struggling and make it anonymous.
- Take part in one of the Zoom worship options we are offering at Emanuel, to worship with others even as we are separated. Or drop in for Pastoral Check In (or at your own congregation — you are always welcome at Emanuel).
- Do a time of meditation, maybe while doing stretching or yoga, to make it a time of spiritual centered and holiness. Work on Breath Prayers.
- Pray for someone with whom you may not agree or who you have trouble loving, to move beyond yourself and ask for them to find peace and blessing.
- Every night, before bed, write down three things for which you are grateful, remembering God is present in each day and when we acknowledge that, we are able to truly wait upon the Lord.
These are just a few ideas for how we can wait with God because the truth is, we are going to be waiting one way or another and we can’t change that. But if we wait with God we will truly renew our strength.
O God who knows the weariness of our souls, help us to wait with you and find the renewal and strength that you give to us. May we find in you all that we need to find peace, knowing that you wait with us and give us purpose and good courage. In the name of Jesus, Amen.