Waiting rooms suck. One particular time, I found myself in a waiting room after my youngest son, Micah, slashed his ear on a bookshelf.
I walked into the ER at our local hospital around 10 a.m. Micah was in pain but handling the situation well. Meanwhile, I couldn’t stop staring at the cartilage and junk dangling from his ear. I nearly passed out. “If I can keep him calm for an hour or so,” I thought, “we’ll have his ear stitched and head back to the house.”
Five hours later, cartilage was still on the wrong side of his ear, the outside. And I was on the other side of happy.
Micah was now hurting and exhausted. I wanted to do something, anything, to help him. But I was at the mercy of a hospital who’s default pace was too frickin’ slow. We finally left the hospital at 6 p.m., nearly 8 hours after arriving.
Life has waiting rooms, too. Maybe you’ve spent time in one. I have. You might call this place the meantime, the wilderness, a season of transition or smelly arm pit.
Regardless, the waiting room is hard. Many of our “friends” are there. And by “friends” I mean pain, anxiety, confusion, anger. In life’s waiting room, you have doubts. You pray, but nothing happens. The world’s not crashing down, but your world is.
The waiting room often comes in the form of a diagnosis or being fired or losing your business. It’s the death of someone you love. It’s a spouse leaving or severe depression.
My experience in the meantime has included chronic illness, anxiety and failure, among others.
But I’ve learned a few things. Here are 6 important truths about the meantime.
1. God lives in the unknown.
We’re a highlight-driven culture. That’s why we love shows like SportsCenter. It’s all about highlights. Only the most explosive dunks, longest home runs, and jaw-dropping goals make the cut. SportsCenter doesn’t show Steph Curry’s morning routine. Frankly, if it did, I wouldn’t watch. Neither would you. Who cares what he eats for breakfast? Just show him “making it rain” from the 3-point line.
Unfortunately, we buy the SportsCenter hype when it comes to life. The best moments are on the mountaintop. And we often equate God’s blessings with our current circumstances. If things are trending up, we feel blessed. But what about when life sucks? Not so blessed anymore.
In the meantime, you question God’s presence. Has He left me? Is He finished with me? Does He understand my confusion?
I need more highlights.
The truth is, God works in the meantime. Your life might appear more confusing than a junior high girl’s brain. But never equate confusion with absence. God restores order from chaos. He speaks when the world is silent. And he strengthens through pain.
Throughout Scripture, God reveals himself in the meantime. Abraham leaves his family and land, but God talks directly to him more than once. Jacob is forced to leave his family, but God meets him in the wilderness while he sleeps on a rock. A power-hungry king throws Daniel in a lions’ den. God sends an angel to shut the lions’ mouths.
God not only reveals himself in the meantime. He does so intimately. In Scripture, rather than sending signs, miracles or prophets (as he often does to communicate with his people), God appears to folks more directly. He isn’t absent in your struggle. He wants to reveal himself intimately.
Don’t get high on Instagram filters and SportsCenter highlights. God dwells in the unknown. Look for Him.
2. Living in the past is a death sentence.
In the meantime, the past tempts you. It taunts you like a junior high bully. “You don’t know what you left behind. You made a huge mistake. God can’t be trusted. Come back here.”
Living in the past is a death sentence. Why? God, who is the only source of life, doesn’t live in the past.
God leads you towards the future. Always.
In Genesis 19, God spares Lot and his wife from Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction. Before escaping, however, an angel gives them one command, “Do not look back or stop anywhere” (verse 17). Easy enough, right? Of course, it is…until God says this to you.
On the outskirts of their former home, Lot’s wife looks back. Immediately, she becomes a pillar of salt.
The angel’s message is a timeless warning that applies today. If you look back, you will die. You won’t turn into a pillar of salt, but regret, shame, and comparison will plague your life.
You must keep your eyes focused forward if you desire joy, peace, and hope. The past might be comfortable. It might be easy familiar. That’s why its screams are tempting. But the past is also void of God’s presence.
Your best days aren’t behind you. They’re ahead of you because God is there.
3. You might feel lonely. But you should never be alone.
Loneliness and isolation aren’t the same. The first is inevitable in the meantime. The second isn’t. In previous seasons of waiting, Tiffani and I intentionally surrounded ourselves with people who prayed with and for us. While we struggled, we knew Christian community would sustain us. So, we sought it out.
I believe in community. If you don’t have one, the meantime will feel longer and more difficult. Christian community holds you up when you can’t stand. Christian community restores perspective when pain and chaos tempt you to throw in the towel.
Finding this community requires vulnerability on your part. But maybe vulnerability is the very thing God wants to refine. Regardless, don’t travel through the meantime alone.
4. You can’t manufacture your way out of the meantime.
I’m a fixer. I blame my engineering background. I’m convinced the impossible math equations, countless hours of homework and thousands of dollars spent had one purpose: teach me the art of problem-solving.
If you’re not an engineer, just blame America for your desire to fix things. We’re fixers. In this country, the best fixers have a corner office and a fat bank account.
But the skills that make Americans successful make the meantime crappier. There are no magic formulas in life’s waiting room. Brainstorming sessions and hard work usually lead to more problems.
Look, I’m not naive. I know there are “get out of the meantime faster” cheat codes. You can seek out pleasures – drugs, sex, shopping. You can get busy with futile planning, the kind that appeases your ego but serves no real purpose.
You see, my friends, in the meantime, God works. In you, yes. But he also goes ahead of you, cultivating the ground, preparing it for your next season. By-passing or minimizing your time in the waiting room only hurts you.
This is what happened to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 1. Moses sent spies into the Promised Land. After salivating over the choice fruits, they stumbled upon the natives. And these fools were large. So large, in fact, the spies forgot about the miracles and provision God showed them in the wilderness. Rather than trusting their Creator, they peed their pants, ran back to Moses and told lies about their time in the Promised Land. They did so hoping they would not have to return to the Promised Land where they would most assuredly pee their pants (again) and die.
The story goes on, though. After some time, the Israelites realized they made a mistake. They should have trusted God, regardless of the gargantuan nature of the peoples living in the Promised Land. So, they go forth, weapons in hand, to take possession of what is rightfully theirs.
The problem? God’s not there. And they get slaughtered. Oops.
Here’s the point. The Israelites tried to manufacture their way into the Promised Land. And you can’t manufacture God’s blessings or promises. God isn’t a dog. He won’t sit on your command, and He won’t cover your back just because you impatiently run ahead of his promises.
The meantime isn’t a place where God expects you to “do.” It’s a place he expects you to “be.” God does the work. Forcing your way out likely involves hurting yourself or someone else. It will always involve instant gratification. And it will never involve the presence of God.
5. Your emotions are legitimate, but they don’t define reality.
In the meantime, you will experience a spectrum of emotions, many of them dark. When they come, express them. If you need to cry, cry. If you have doubts, verbalize them. Don’t suppress your emotions, especially the hard ones. I know you want people to think you have it together, but you can’t selective suppress emotions. So, burying bad emotions (anger, frustration, despair, etc.) means you also bury good ones (joy, peace, love, etc.)
The path to bitterness is paved with buried emotions.
At the same time, your emotions can deceive you. Pain, despair, and anxiety have a way of blinding your perspective and drowning your hope. You’re lost right now. But God knows exactly where you are and what you feel.
Emotions are great teachers. They reveal things to us – what we’re passionate about, what we love, etc. But emotions are terrible masters. You can’t allow feelings to define your reality. Let God do that.
6. God has a purpose for the meantime.
You can’t imagine another day in the wilderness. “Will this ever end?” circulates through your mind like a 24-hour Ferris wheel.
The past five months, I’ve studied the Bible’s accounts of men and women in life’s waiting room. Some wait for years. Others wait for days or weeks. Regardless of the time frame, every person who encounters the meantime and lives to tell about it shares a common trait.
They refuse to give up.
Don’t throw in the towel. Don’t lose faith. Trust God. Yes, even in the meantime (especially in the meantime). He can be trusted.
In the meantime, the voices of evil say you will never find stability, joy or meaning. They say God has abandoned you. They want you to believe throwing in the towel is your best option.
God says he has a purpose for the meantime. This season won’t terminate on itself. You will reach the other side stronger and closer to Him.
If you’re in the meantime right now, I’m praying for you. It’s not easy. Change sucks. Unknown is uncomfortable. But don’t give up. This season is temporary. God is preparing the way for something great. And he’s making you more like Him.
If your life is going well right now, praise God! But the meantime is coming. Remember these truths.
Grace and peace, friends.
Frank is lead writer and editor for the blog at Bayside church. He is also a husband, father and Jesus-follower. Occasionally he plays golf. Often he drinks coffee.