Enduring Instructive Waiting

I recently found an article online that caught my attention. A pop-culture site was giving their ranking of the twenty most common pet peeves. A few of them may have been a little out there, but for the most part I thought they were notably common. A few of the things the list included were open mouthed chewers,  people who don’t return things, foot tappers, pen clickers, being interrupted, and getting your headphones caught on things. I thought this was interesting, but I felt they left out what, to me, may be the biggest, most common pet peeve in our society, and in the Church today – waiting.

We all have things in our life that we are presently waiting for. These things can  be spiritual or temporal, they can range anywhere from waiting to get married, waiting for an opportunities or a promotion, waiting for direction or peace, waiting for answers to prayers, or waiting to receive promised blessings from God. Whatever it is, each of us  likely struggles with waiting for something, and this can be difficult. As President Uchtdorf has said, “Waiting can be hard. We live in a world offering fast food, instant messaging, on-demand movies, and immediate answers to the most trivial or profound questions.” Hence the observation, “We don’t like to wait. Patience—the ability to put our desires on hold for a time—is a precious and rare virtue. We want what we want, and we want it now. Therefore, the very idea of patience may seem unpleasant and, at times, bitter.” He goes on to note that as rare and unpleasant as this virtue may be, it is a necessity. “Nevertheless, without patience, we cannot please God; we cannot become perfect. Indeed, patience is a purifying process that refines understanding, deepens happiness, focuses action, and offers hope for peace.”

Elder Neal A. Maxwell plainly stated, “When you and I are unduly impatient, we are suggesting that we like our timetable better than God’s.” Sometimes in the moment it can look as if our timetable makes more sense. President Uchtdorf noted, “We wait for things which at the time may appear so right and so good to us that we can’t possibly imagine why Heavenly Father would delay the answer.” We convince ourselves that if we could control the lever that unlocks the blessings of heaven, and pull it at a time that we deem suitable to our needs, we’d have greater happiness, alleviated suffering, and less discomfort. This just isn’t true. God, who knows all things, has our best eternal interests in mind. In fact, he knows and understands those interests better than we do, which is why he instructively requires us to wait. There are reasons for this, but usually “the deep valleys of our present will be understood only by looking back on them from the mountains of our future experience. Often we can’t see the Lord’s hand in our lives until long after the trials have passed.” (Uchtdorf) In the meantime we can look for lessons from the experiences of others. The scriptures are replete with examples of people who had to wait. As we examine their stories, we find apparent reasons behind their waiting, and considerable blessings that were gained as they were patient.

Jacob had to wait seven years before he could marry Rachel as he served her father. “And they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.” (Gen 29:20) Along with a greater capacity to love, he likely gained a greater work ethic than he had before, and greater appreciation for the marriage when the time came. These things would lead him to be a better husband and father to his own family.

The Israelites had to wait 40 years before they could inhabit the promised land. It did not take long for the Lord to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt, but expunging the Egypt out of the Israelites was another, much longer, story. They were put through a character development process in the form of tests and tutorials that led them to change. Perhaps during the waiting periods of our lives the Lord is trying to remove the false ideologies, habits, and practices that represent the Egypt in us, preparing us for our own future ‘promised land.’ Elder Maxwell remarked, “Faith likewise includes faith in God’s developmental purposes. . . Still, some of us have trouble when God’s tutoring is applied to us! We plead for exemption more than we do for sanctification, don’t we, brothers and sisters?” If we can bring ourselves to humbly plead for sanctification and knowledge rather than exemption, waiting will begin to be instructive, and even edifying.

In Alma chapter 52 we read of a time when patience worked out in Teancum’s favor.

16 And it came to pass that Teancum had received orders to make an attack upon the city of Mulek, and retake it if it were possible.

17 And it came to pass that Teancum made preparations to make an attack upon the city of Mulek, and march forth with his army against the Lamanites; but he saw that it was impossible that he could overpower them while they were in their fortifications; therefore he abandoned his designs and returned again to the city Bountiful, to wait for the coming of Moroni, that he might receive strength to his army.

18 And it came to pass that Moroni did arrive with his army at the land of Bountiful.

Teancum was asked to do something, and had to wait because it wouldn’t work at that specific time. His patience for the correct circumstances led him to receive additional strength beyond his own army’s capacity. With the help of Moroni and the reinforcements they took the city of Mulek by stratagem. It may be that the timing and circumstance for the blessing we seek are not yet right. We may not be spiritually or emotionally strong enough to figuratively retake the city of Mulek.

Helaman and his stripling warriors faced a similar dilemma in Alma chapter 58 when they were directed to take the city of Manti.

And they were so much more numerous than was our army that we durst not go forth and attack them in their strongholds.

Yea, and it became expedient that we should employ our men to the maintaining those parts of the land which we had regained of our possessions; therefore it became expedient that we should wait, that we might receive more strength from the land of Zarahemla and also a new supply of provisions.

And it came to pass that I thus did send an embassy to the governor of our land, to acquaint him concerning the affairs of our people. And it came to pass that we did wait to receive provisions and strength from the land of Zarahemla.

And it came to pass that we did wait in these difficult circumstances for the space of many months, even until we were about to perish for the want of food.

They waited until they couldn’t wait any longer, and finally received provisions accompanied by an army of a mere 2,000 men, which they felt was inadequate “to contend with an army which was innumerable.”

And now the cause of these our embarrassments, or the cause why they did not send more strength unto us, we knew not; therefore we were grieved and also filled with fear, lest by any means the judgments of God should come upon our land, to our overthrow and utter destruction.

The trial of waiting, and not receiving the assistance they felt they needed and deserved, caused them to feel embarrassed. However, this led them to pray and receive assurance from the Lord.

10 Therefore we did pour out our souls in prayer to God, that he would strengthen us and deliver us out of the hands of our enemies, yea, and also give us strength that we might retain our cities, and our lands, and our possessions, for the support of our people.

11 Yea, and it came to pass that the Lord our God did visit us with assurances that he would deliver us; yea, insomuch that he did speak peace to our souls, and did grant unto us great faith, and did cause us that we should hope for our deliverance in him.

What Helaman and his men ultimately gained by waiting longer than they thought they could wait, and receiving less than they felt they should have received, was increased faith in the Lord. They learned that they could rely on Him. Helaman records: “And we did take courage with our small force which we had received, and were fixed with a determination to conquer our enemies.” This result came because they chose to pray. Perhaps we have been waiting for reinforcements and provisions in the form of a specific blessing or answer, even to the point of embarrassment, and what finally came was less than we felt we deserved. The Lord may be trying to teach us, as with the stripling warriors, not to rely so much on the reinforcements, whatever they may represent for us, but to rely on Him and to have faith in Him.

Joseph Smith had to wait three years after his first vision before being visited by Moroni, and another four years before he was allowed to obtain the plates. This instructive waiting period was likely given for him to overcome his weaknesses and sufficiently mature. He recorded that between 1820 and 1823, “I was left to all kinds of temptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God.” Admittedly, one of the weaknesses or foibles he was guilty of was levity, defined as “lightness of mind, character, or behavior; lack of appropriate seriousness or earnestness.” He repented, and eventually grew into his prophetic calling. But it took time. It is true, as Elder Maxwell taught, that “so many spiritual outcomes require saving truths to be mixed with time, forming the elixir of experience, that sovereign remedy for so many things.” It may be that we, like Joseph, just aren’t ready to receive what we’re waiting for yet. We may be guilty of levity and need to repent and grow, this requires time.

The following is an excerpt from a speech given by then Elder Gordon B. Hinckley to students at Brigham Young University in 1977. The comments are specifically addressed to young adults waiting to get married, but the principles that are taught apply to everyone.

If you are complaining about life, it is because you are thinking only of yourself. There was for many years a sign on the wall of a shoe repair shop I patronized. It read, “I complained because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.” The most effective medicine for the sickness of self-pity is to lose oneself in the service of others.

There are some girls on this campus who are worrying themselves almost sick over the question of whether they will have opportunity for marriage. Of course marriage is desirable; of course it is hoped for and worked for and sought after. But worrying about it will never bring it. In fact, it may have the opposite effect, for there is nothing that dulls a personality so much as a negative outlook. Possibly some of you will not be married; but don’t forget that there are other things in life, other pursuits to be followed. I would like to suggest that you read the story of Dr. Anne G. Osborne in the March issue of the Ensign magazine. Here is a highly trained instructor at the University of Utah medical school, an eminent specialist in her field, and a member of the Sunday School General Board. I like the title of her short article. She calls it, “The Ecstasy of the Agony: How to be Single and Sane at the Same Time.” Speaking candidly of her age as thirty-three, she mentions marriage as a promised blessing, but she soon makes it clear that there is a stimulating and productive life for those single young women who will get interested in serving the needs of others. Says she,

As single Church members we can either engage in morose personal recrimination and self-flagellation, bemoaning our single status and living on the edge of desperation, or we can use this interim period in our lives as a time of active, creative waiting. . . . [She continues,] When discouragement weighs heavily, look around. . . . I have found that a sure cure for depression is to realize someone out there needs me. In blessing someone else, my needs and problems are quickly consumed in the warm glow of knowing that I have brightened another’s life and that what I have done is pleasing to the Lord.

[She concludes with these words:] Let us then rejoice in this precious treasure, time, and thank the Lord for a special gift. We truly have time to become interesting because we are interested.

These thoughts seem to coincide with the remarks of President Uchtdorf, who learned for himself “that patience was far more than simply waiting for something to happen—patience required actively working toward worthwhile goals and not getting discouraged when results didn’t appear instantly or without effort.” He went on to state, “There is an important concept here: patience is not passive resignation, nor is it failing to act because of our fears. Patience means active waiting and enduring. It means staying with something and doing all that we can—working, hoping, and exercising faith; bearing hardship with fortitude, even when the desires of our hearts are delayed. Patience is not simply enduring; it is enduring well!”

Just about every time Elder David A. Bednar has spoken in a public setting since being ordained an Apostle, he has taught the principle that “we are agents who act for ourselves and not objects to be acted upon.” For agents who act, waiting can be instructive; for people who allow themselves to become objects that are acted upon, waiting can be irksome, dragging, and even annoying. The responsibility to act as an agent and turn waiting into ‘instructive waiting’ is our own. We can do this by choosing to be patient, choosing to pray for assurance, looking for the lesson, using the time to learn and better ourselves, and losing ourselves in the service of others. This is important because as Elder Maxwell has declared, “Without patient and meek endurance we will learn less, see less, feel less, and hear less. We who are egocentric and impatient shut down so much of our receiving capacity.”

Years down the road, when the necessary building blocks have been put in place, the needed lessons have been learned, and the essential experience has been gained, we will likely feel like crying out to our former selves, as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland did: “Don’t give up boy. Don’t you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead, a lot of it. You keep your chin up. It will be alright in the end. Trust God, and believe in good things to come.”

In the same address, Elder Holland asserted, “Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come. Of that I personally attest.”

I wish to emphasize a final principle here, and it is this – God is never late, His timing is perfect. When we are waiting on the Lord, we are really waiting for Him to be done waiting for us.  If the blessings are late, or seem late, it is not that God is late; it is instead likely that we have not yet been obedient to the necessary commandment upon which the specific blessing is predicated, or we are still yet to learn the lesson(s) found in the waiting process leading up to that blessing. If there is a postponing on His part of the bestowal we seek, no matter how long or how miserable we may feel, it is for our benefit. As President Henry B. Eyring observed, “The Lord’s delays often seem long; some last a lifetime. But they are always calculated to bless. They need never be times of loneliness or sorrow or impatience.” We can press forward with faith in the understanding, as President Uchtdorf taught, that “in your patience you win mastery of your souls. . . knowing that sometimes it is in the waiting rather than in the receiving that we grow the most.”

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