Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door. (James 5:7-9)
As life’s little annoyances go, a ground stop ranks right up there with the best of them. Or the worst of them, depending on how you rank life’s little annoyances.
I’m sitting on a runway (in a plane) in Nashville, Tennessee, as I write this. My itinerary says I should be back home in Chicago by now, watching the Sugar Bowl or, more likely, removing a foot or so of snow from my sidewalks and driveway. The snow - that’s the reason I’m sitting here, in fact. Midway Airport is overwhelmed by delays earlier in the day, delays caused by that snowstorm. They’re in a ground stop: no traffic in or out while they untangle the mess and deal with the backlog of flights.
They’re in a ground stop. So we’re at a full stop.
It’s a first-world problem, of course. An uptown problem. Our flight back to our comfortable home in Chicago is delayed. We have family offering to pick us up or provide us a place to stay tonight, if we need it. We’re loaded down with Christmas gifts. If this is the worst problem we ever have - well, I’ll take it.
But, in the moment, it’s also kind of frustrating. Frustrating to be dependent on others to get home. Frustrating that it’s looking more and more like the flight isn’t leaving at all tonight. Frustrating, most of all, that there’s nothing we can do about it. We’re stuck, powerless, unable to change our situation even a little. All we can do is wait.
One of history’s great theologians, Theodore Geisel, knew a little something about waiting. He wrote, in fact, about The Waiting Place:
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for the wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.
As familiar as that may sound to many of us, Theodore gets in wrong when he says waiting is “not for you.” Wouldn’t that be nice? But waiting, at one time or another, is for everyone. One waits for a diagnosis. Another for word of a wayward child. Another for news about his job status. Another for a spouse’s affection. We wait, every one of us; we sit on the tarmac of life, waiting for a takeoff that never comes. Waiting to taxi away from the gate. Ground stop. We wait.
Apologies to Dr. Geisel…err, Seuss…but the question isn’t whether or not we wait. The question is how we wait.
James says to wait like a farmer. Farmers know what they’re waiting for, and they hang in there until it comes. They don’t decide two weeks after planting that they’d rather be lawyers or cowboys or circus clowns. They know that it’ll take time. They know there’s nothing they can do to hurry things along. But they also know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the harvest will come. They can’t see it until it does, but they know it’s on the way. So they’re patient, and they stand firm. And that’s how you wait.
Here’s what I tend to forget when I have to wait for a plane, or anything, for that matter: I forget that I’m not really waiting for a plane. Oh, sure, I’d like that plane to come, or go, or whatever. But what I’m really waiting for is the Lord to come. What finally gives my life meaning is the promise that one day he’s coming back to make right what’s wrong, redeem what’s lost and broken, bring together what’s come apart, and give life to what’s dead. Whatever else I may be waiting for - what I’m really looking for is that day.
That’s true for you too. So we really ought to listen to James and consider how we’re waiting. Are we standing firm, confident that the Lord’s “standing at the door”? Are we patient, not distracted by other pursuits? The text suggests that even seemingly mundane matters like how we treat one another might speak volumes about how we’re waiting. Patience and standing firm have to do with making sure our whole lives reflect that we know what we’re really waiting for - whatever waiting place we may happen to be in at any particular given time.
Turns out we had to wait even a bit longer to get home. Our flight was cancelled, and we decided to rent a car to get home. It took a little longer than an hour-plus flight, but we made it safe and sound. Funny thing, too - it seemed less like waiting when we were pointed toward home and heading that way.
So that’s how we wait. We point toward home, we stay en route, and we wait patiently.
We act toward the people around us as though the One through whom they were created, the One who died for them, is coming soon. We use our time like it’s not only finite, but also consecrated to him. We give of our resources as though they belong to him, and when he comes back he might be asking what we’ve done with them. We give him the honor he is due, and we do as he asks us to, and we trust him enough to believe in what he says is true over our own opinions, and we live in faith that he is in control of our lives and the world around us, and most of all that he’s good and loves us endlessly.
That’s how we wait. We can’t always understand the many diverse ways our lives unfold. We can’t foresee its twists and turns, its conclusions and resolutions. But we know how it ends. And we know that Jesus is coming. And so we wait, not for an airplane or a promotion or a soul mate or even a cure. We wait for him. We wait patiently, and we wait confidently, and we know that one day he’ll come, and we’ll be home.
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