The Wisdom of Waiting
This world we live in is full of the need to work hard, to take action, to solve problems, to keep moving forward, going, going, going. Of course there is great wisdom in all of these things. Work doesn’t get accomplished when we are idle, and problems don’t get solved if we don’t do everything we can to figure them out. I absolutely know the truth of this from vast experience. I have written over sixty books, raised five children, served in many church callings, and faced many challenges in my life, both personally and professionally. And the more that problems came, the more I believed that I just had to keep working to solve them. I had to work hard to create income and conquer the ongoing flow of stories that kept coming into my head. I had to work hard to take care of my home and family. I had to work hard to find solutions to my failing health when every avenue I tried made no difference. I had to work hard to solve every spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical challenge that came up. I just believed instinctively that if I worked hard enough, eventually I would across some kind of metaphorical finish line and things would be easier, problems solved, life better. Well, guess what. I was wrong! Now, let me hurry and clarify before you even jump to assuming that I’m speaking out against the value of hard work and striving to be active in solving our life’s problems. I’m all for it! But through this intensely difficult season of my life, I have learned the very hard lesson that it’s only part of the answer, and missing the other part can be devastating.
Long ago I heard the little fable about a person in a rowboat with two oars; one represented faith and the other work. If the person only rowed with one oar—meaning all faith and no work—the rowboat would go in a circle and get nowhere. If the person only used work and no faith, the same thing would happen except the boat would spin in the other direction. It takes using both oars together to move the boat forward. The message and imagery has stuck with me, and I’ve always considered myself to be both hardworking and faithful. That is certainly true. I am hardworking and faithful. But the real meaning in life isn’t necessarily found in simple adages; they are just the tip of the iceberg. We are here to figure out who we truly are, and to become the person God wants us to become. And that doesn’t happen when you’re stuck in a pattern of thinking and behavior that isn’t getting you to those goals. I may have been frantically rowing with both oars, but I had completely missed the point that sometimes you just have to let go of the oars and lay back in the boat and allow God to guide its direction. Let go and let God. There’s an adage I thought I understood. Now, I’m beginning to see that I’ve not yet begun to truly let go and let God.
I’ve struggled with health issues that have taken me out of different aspects of my life for many years now. And I thought I understood what that meant. But now I have spent three years in a place where almost every facet of my life that’s important to me has been pulled away. My health got so bad that I couldn’t even go to church or the temple, the places where I seek spiritual strength and guidance. My inability to do things for and with my family intensified greatly. I can’t even go to a movie theater. My inability to be the kind of homemaker I would like to be also intensified. Without active help from my children, the household would not function at all. Relationships with friends and loved ones became strained or completely dissipated for various reasons and I’ve felt enormously isolated. My doctor summarized my complicated health situation and declared me to be “disabled” and he stated kindly “it’s a miracle you can do anything at all.” And then—to seal the deal—my creativity just flat-lined. I had felt it struggling for a long time, but I’d never imagined it would just shut off.
And that’s when the waiting began. I kept waiting, waiting, waiting. I couldn’t DO anything except pray and wait. My already flailing self-esteem began to beat myself up badly for not being capable of DOING something to solve all of these problems. I just kept waiting for a miracle to release me from this terrible bondage, for I indeed felt bound in so many ways. About a year or so into my “waiting” I had the impression come to my mind of a caterpillar inside of a cocoon. The idea gave me hope and understanding. I was being changed into something better. One day the waiting would end and I would be able to fly. But months passing made the idea difficult to hold onto. More waiting; dark, painful, lonely waiting. My husband and children never stopped being a part of my life, but they went in and out with their own busyness and I just kept waiting. Months have grown into years of waiting.
I’ve been led to many different puzzle pieces that are helping me become the new me that I suspect and hope is being created in this cocoon. But the tightness and the darkness continue. However, one of the most powerful pieces for me was being led to a book called, “When The Heart Waits,” (sounds like an Anita Stansfield novel) by Sue Monk Kidd. The steps that led me to having that book in my hands are a series of seemingly insignificant events that miraculously put it right in front of my face at the exact moment I needed it. The book is about her own midlife darkness and struggle and waiting, and she uses the metaphor of the cocoon, the chrysalis, and the butterfly to illustrate her poignant and powerful message, all of which is presented with a strong Christian theme. I’m not quite finished with the book yet; I’ve had to read it in small increments and take it into my spirit. But I am learning the purpose and the art of waiting, not to be ashamed of my waiting, but to recognize that God put me on bedrest to get my attention, and he’s carefully and quietly teaching me the greatest lessons of my life. But I cannot hear His lessons if I’m so focused on the frustration of waiting and being idle that I’m not paying attention to the wisdom of divine guidance and instruction. I have been shown the many dysfunctions that had been a part of my life before waiting. And I am being guided on how to change them. I have far to go, but I’m relaxing more in my little boat, looking for the beauty all around me that I had been missing, and counting my blessings while I take in moments of joy amidst the ongoing pain and struggle. I have learned and am continuing to learn much, but the most powerful thing I’ve found is the immensely deep message in one of my favorite scriptures. “Be still and know that I am God.”
My little boat is in His hands.
Anita Stansfield aka Elizabeth D. Michaels (All of Anita Stansfield's books, and The Horstberg Saga by Elizabeth D. Michaels, are available at amazon.com)
P.S. A note from Anna here! Anita (or you know, my mom) has most of the book notes ready to post. There are a LOT of them though. This is essentially a warning that the blog will soon be flooded with posts while we're getting all of those up. They'll be organized via a list and links in a tab. Carry on!