Waiting Differs from Doing Nothing

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Waiting differs from “doing nothing.”

Waiting doesn’t always feel that way.

Waiting can be active, expectant, watchful, and patient.

Or waiting can be passive, unexpectant, lazy, and impatient.

Lamentation 3:5 says, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.”

Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

Habbakuk 2:3 reminds us, “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.”

Isaiah 30:18 says, “Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.”

These are all Old Testament references. Maybe the Hebrew people learned a thing or two about waiting.

James 5:7 says, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.”

Romans 5:1-5 says,

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

In Luke 2:25 we read this about a man named Simeon, “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.”

And Henri Nouwen writes:

Whenever there is a lack of clarity or ambiguous circumstances, it is time to wait. Active waiting is essential to the spiritual life. In our mostly active lives and fast-paced culture, waiting is not a popular pastime. It is not something we anticipate or experience with great joy. In fact, most of us consider it a wast of time. Perhaps this is because the culture in which we live is basically saying, “Get going! Do something! Show you are able to make a difference! Don’t just sit there and wait.” But the paradox of waiting is that it requires full attention to the present moment, with the expectation of what is to come and the patience to learn from the act of waiting.

Discernment, p. 150

As we wait, we pray. We’re active. Alert. Exercising faith, echoing the words of Psalm 39:7, which says, “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.”

The Moral Significance of Having Children

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The birthrate in the United States has hit its lowest level since 1979. Some chalk this up to the pandemic. But others speculate that “the economy, immigration rates and lacking pro-family policies are possible reasons.”

We’ve probably also heard silly statements similar to this one.

Economic conditions, lack of geographic stability/a shifting global population, environmental concerns, and government policy can affect family formation. But are these symptoms? Or is there a deeper malaise?

Is there some other reasons we do not wish to have children?

In A Community of Character, Stanley Hauerwas wrote an essay, “The Moral Value of the Family, and said:

Like it or not, one of the most morally substantive things any of us ever has the opportunity to do is to have children. A child represents our willingness to go on in the face of difficulties, suffering, and the ambiguities of modern life and is thus our claim that we have something worthwhile to pass on. The refusal to have children can be an act of ultimate despair that masks the deepest kind of self-hate and disgust. Fear and rejection of parenthood, the tendency to view the family as nothing more than companionable marriage, and the understanding of marriage as one of a series of nonbinding commitments, are but indications that our society has a growing distrust of our ability to deal with the future.

Family formation is a moral responsibility, and it is a setting for significant moral formation. Hauerwas stresses the necessity of inter-generational ties, the importance of elderly persons in the lives of young parents and children, and the fact that families teach how to care for those we do not choose, “those we find ourselves joined to by accident of birth.” The family also teaches us how to practice hospitality and the welcome of the stranger, and through the telling of family stories we find ourselves incorporated into a history that preceded us, and that will continue beyond us. We are bound not only by birth, but by time.

Hauerwas challenges us to reclaim family formation and childbearing as a moral responsibility, where older parents pass on wisdom to younger parents, and where all family members pass on what is good and true about human existence to successive generations. Rather than passing off children to “experts,” it is time we care for children as families.

Hauerwas concludes the essay:

In closing, a brief mention of what I think religious faith has to do with marriage and the family. It is not merely that the Judeo-Christian tradition keeps people on the straight and narrow sexual path necessary to sustain marriage. On the contrary, I begin my classes on marriage with the observation that both Christianity and marriage teach us that life is not chiefly about ‘happiness.’ Rather, the Hebrew-Christian tradition helps sustain the virtue of hope in a world which rarely provides evidence that such hope is justified. There may be a secular analogue to such hope, but for those of us who identify with Judaism or Christianity, our continuing formation of families witnesses to our belief that the falseness of this world is finally bounded by a more profound truth.

Christianity provides a hope that goes beyond the state of the economy, the environment, migration concerns, or government policy. And, it provides the resources to help individuals work toward economic health and justice, creation care, stability and hospitality, and public policy that benefits the common good.

I have often reflected on the challenges of parenthood. Molly and I were not “ready” for children. I do not think anyone is ever “ready,” for even if we think we are “ready,” we will change. Our conditions will change. Speaking personally, part of the change rendered in me is the discovery of a love that binds and compels, that draws and drives, a deepening concern not first for my own interests, but for the interests of those who have been gifted into the world by God.

As Hauerwas observes, the world seldom provides reasons for “hope.” It is rather effective in providing reasons for despair. My hope, then, must be rooted elsewhere: in God and God’s coming future.

If you are considering marriage, be wise, firstly. But, I encourage you: get married. Make a commitment. With God’s help, keep it. And if you are married, even if you don’t think you are “ready,” please be open to welcoming a child into the world. Why? Because, with God, we have an everlasting hope.

Reading George Herbert

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Lord, who hast formed me out of mud,
And hast redeemed me through thy blood,
And sanctified me to do good;

Purge all my sins done heretofore:
For I confess my heavy score,
And I will strive to sin no more.

Enrich my heart, mouth, hands in me,
With faith, with hope, with charity;
That I may run, rise, rest with thee

– George Herbert, “Trinity Sunday”

“Trinity Sunday” was published in Herbert’s The Temple in 1633. Each morning I read the Bible, a psalm, the daily entry from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest, and a few pages from one (or more) books that I’m slowly, presently working my way through. Herbert’s poetry is a recent selection. I read at least three of his poems each morning.

“Trinity Sunday” is a very short poem, but contains a vast survey of Christian doctrine, beginning with creation and concluding with eschatological, ultimate hope. Herbert brings to memory that the story of the Bible begins with God bringing order from chaos. In Genesis 2, God forms the first human being from the dust of the ground. In the final line of the poem, Herbert asks for the blessing of union with God. What began as mud now runs and rises and then finally rests with God. Humble origins, and a heavenly hope.

Between Herbert’s mention of first and last things, we encounter the doctrine of salvation. God is the redeemer, having justified Herbert through the blood of Jesus Christ. God is also the sanctifier, the one who sets the priest and poet apart, making him holy for a purpose: “to do good.”

God is then petitioned: first to purge, then to enrich. Herbert repents, asking God to do the cleansing work. He considers his sin a “heavy” thing. Sin, transgression, wrongdoing before a Holy God most certainly is. Yet God removes the weight. Herbert vows to “sin no more.” There is a turning. Only then does he asks God’s blessing, that his “heart, mouth, hands” (his whole person) be strengthened for God’s purposes and in accordance with the classical Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity (charity is the traditional rendering; we’re more familiar today with love being mentioned here).

The poem begins and ends addressing the same subject: “Lord” and “thee.” “I” and “my” appear three times; “me” is used four. There is an interplay between Herbert’s “I” and God’s “Thou.” Formed from mud, burdened by sin, Herbert looks to God as Creator, Redeemer, Justifier, Sanctifier, and Sustainer. Herbert looks upon himself, confesses his insufficiencies and inadequacies and faults, and yet he offers himself as a servant, knowing that is the reason God has redeemed and now sanctifies him. He has been caught up and brought into God’s eternal story. He can only play his part with God’s grace, God’s help. The same is true for any who would call upon God today.

I have seen the last three lines of this poem quoted. But those lines become so much richer when they appear alongside and after the first six. To ask God’s help is all the more profound when considered under the full scope of God’s person and work, and to state one’s one weakness, burden, and sin simultaneously serves to humble and uplift. Apart from God, we are quite small and frail, very lost and exposed.

But with God we are united to the source of an unsurpassed and unequaled strength, a strength that works through frailty and weakness and woundedness to make manifest the beautiful gifts of faith, hope, and charity. We are known, and found, and protected, and sent. We are lifted and carried, welcomed and restored.