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My Year in Limbo: The Tensions Between Waiting, Achieving, and Being

By Christina Lopez Robin

At my core, I’ve always known that God created me to love people. I especially enjoy the company of the littler people among us. Once I started to learn more about foster care, adoption and the effects of trauma on children, I knew I wanted to get involved in that scene somehow.

So, in August of 2019, I was thrilled to move to Arequipa, Peru. Although I loved what I was doing as a private Christian school teacher in the surrounding disadvantaged communities of Jacksonville, I was also excited about the doors God might open in a new, even needier community. Peru seemed like a great opportunity to put feet to those desires.

I would have loved to start serving right away, but — per the advice of some very wise people — I entered cautiously. Much damage is done by the heavy hands of well-intentioned foreigners. So, rather than charging right in, I spent the first few months waiting for God to open doors, content to work on my Peruvian Spanish (which is quite different from the Spanish my Cuban family spoke), get involved with a local church, and naturally make connections in the community. Often, I felt more like an observer than a true help. Still, I loved it, and after months of working as an English teacher and making connections, God opened doors, and I finally started to offer free English classes at a local girl’s home for orphaned children.

I remember being so excited to finally find a safe way to connect with these girls, a way of equipping and supporting them with the proper boundaries in place so as not to add to any possible attachment disorders or other trauma already present. By the second class they had started to feel more comfortable around me, and I happily reassured them that they would see me in two weeks after my vacation (my husband surprised me with a trip to Chile for Valentine’s Day). I can remember that long walk back to my apartment like it was yesterday, singing and skipping as I contemplated the countryside and the beautiful souls I had the opportunity to walk alongside.

Then COVID-19 hit.

Almost an hour after our plane took off for Chile, the Peruvian government, with hardly any prior warning, closed the country’s borders to all international travel, cutting us off from re-entry. That fateful day altered the trajectory of everything we had planned, everything I had planned. Hoping that the borders would reopen, we stayed in Chile for a few weeks, but after the initial two week lockdown was extended, we reluctantly ceded defeat and booked a flight home to the US. If my life were a TV series, then you can imagine the next year in a lengthy montage of my husband and I sleeping on many different beds in many different homes. We moved from family to friends, working online and watching Peru’s progress. Serving in the capacity and proximity I desired was now quite out of the question.

What do we do when our God-given giftings are circumstantially unfulfillable? What happens when God places His children in such a stage of life that personal passions seem far from reach?

In my case, the separating force was the pandemic, but I know that the pandemic is not the only culprit separating people from their passions and related goals. For some, school is in the way, and will be for the next few years. Or maybe you’re hindered from your calling by the stress of a demanding job. Or perhaps it's just a lack of internal motivation, the combination of having too many other ambitions and responsibilities. Whatever the case, what do we do when life seems to crowd out our aspirations? Do we give up? Do we conclude that God is saying no? Can we short-change other responsibilities so that we can get to what we really want to accomplish in life?

I am sure there are many ways in which a wise person could answer these questions. Rather than attempt a comprehensive analysis of all possible answers, I will focus on the process of waiting itself. Waiting, you say? How does that help me connect to my goals? Well, I’d like to take a look. I believe waiting has some magical properties. Perhaps, even, it is one of the Maker’s favorite tools to help His creatures gain valuable insight into what they may become and what they truly want, if they allow the process to fulfill its role.

The Western View of Time

Before we can glean the possible benefits of waiting, we should investigate what exactly makes waiting so difficult for us humans. Views on waiting vary across cultures and change historically, but it is safe to conclude that human beings are not particularly patience-prone. From a biblical perspective as well as an anthropological one, we know this to be true. The scriptures describe humanity as inherently selfish, and everywhere we turn we see evidence of that fact. Selfishness is not something we learn; G.K. Chesterton puts it this way: “[A] permanent possibility of selfishness arises from the mere fact of having a self, and not from any accidents of education or ill-treatment” (Heretics). This selfishness naturally flows into impatience. Regarding my own impatience, I often see a child, petulant, demanding what it does not entirely understand -- we want what we want and we want it now, in many cases regardless of the consequences. But “selfishness” is a broad term. Let’s pry into our current selfishness. I say “current” because our particular Western perspective (assuming my audience is Western) affects how we manifest our innate selfishness. And in order to combat the beast, we must understand it.

In the West, perhaps especially now in the age of optimization and technology, we have constructed, even idolized, time, making it into a thing to be possessed. We view time individualistically — it is mine and mine alone — as opposed to something we experience collectively, and we get very peeved when others infringe on our handle of it. This personal possession, and our use of it, in turn determines our “success,” both in our own eyes and the eyes of others, and, if we’re not careful, we can even allow it to dictate our perceived worth in society (since “success” and “worth” are also closely tied).

Jason Farman, Director of the Design, Cultures & Creativity Program at the University of Maryland, offers fascinating insight on this idea. Farman has conducted extensive research on historical attitudes on waiting. In an interview with GQ, Farman summarizes the particularly American attitude towards waiting:

When we imagine productive time—time being used wisely, time being used well—waiting is contrary to all of that. If you make me wait, you're limiting my ability to be successful in this life. Other people control our time in a way that makes us feel powerless. We don't feel in control. I think that sense of powerlessness and lack of control really drives our hatred of waiting.

In the American ideal, where you can be anything you want so long as you “work hard enough for it,” time is power. It gives you control over your life. And control is exactly what selfishness seeks. Time, along with blood, sweat and tears, is the key ingredient to success: you invest your time well, you reap great rewards — simple, right?

This view of time as currency has seeped into our very language. Have you ever noticed all of the monetary analogies built into the way we talk about time? “How did you spend your weekend?” “I invested 3 hours in that project.” Like money, we view time as a resource to be regulated, guarded, even hoarded (the obsession with “me time” could be categorized as time hoarding, as well as working overtime and cutting sleep). Thus, if another person (or Deity) infringes upon our budgeted time, we respond in exactly the same way we would if we’d lost a possession. We’ve been robbed.

But, you may point out, doesn’t Paul himself refer to time in a monetary sense, speaking of “redeeming the time, for the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16)? The word “redeeming” refers to “buying back,” a monetary term. That seems fairly conclusive, right?

Well, first we must confront the fact that this is, for most, the first verse that comes to mind when we think about a Biblical understanding on time. Perhaps this is case study number one for a term called confirmation bias, our propensity to be attracted to ideas that mirror our own pre-constructed beliefs.

Here, some context might help. What is Ephesians 5 about? Godly living, right? Paul is warning about the soft seduction of sin, warning his readers that Christ is returning. “Wake up, sleeper” he says in verse 14, “rise from the dead.” Paul is not instructing us to be busy; rather, he’s saying that we must live righteously because our time is short. This is, I believe, the precise opposite of the control-mongering, possessive take on time referenced earlier.

The Role Expectations Play in Impatience

Farman’s research introduces another side of our wait-loathing (and one that is particularly potent for me). He identifies that cultural expectations play an important role in our struggle with impatience. In an interview with The Atlantic, Farman explains that back when the primary means of long distance communication was the exchange of letters, recipients would adjust their frustration based on how long the letters were expected to take, regardless of whether they were days or weeks. He remarks:

The idea of waiting and patience is based on the circumstances of the era, on the pace of life established by an era’s technologies. So, if we think something is going to take 10 days to arrive and it takes 20, then our impatience emerges because of the inability for that technology to meet the cultural expectation of the time. Whenever that expectation isn’t met, whatever it is, people get frustrated and impatient and are not willing to stick around or wait.

It is harder to wait when we expect not to wait. If the GPS says 30 minutes, fine. We’re good with that. We are mentally prepared for the journey. But if the GPS had said that the drive would have been 15 minutes and now it will be 30 minutes because of a crash or roadwork, then we become increasingly frustrated as we watch the minutes add up. In the article, Farman speaks specifically of technology and its impact on society. I think that the impact of expectations on waiting can be applied to other parts of society as well. The expectations of others can weigh just as heavily as a technological miscalculation or a logistical error.

When the expectations of others are not met because of some lapse in time, waiting cuts at our sense of belonging. We avoid waiting on certain things because we fear we will be left behind, we will be the outcast from the group that we so desperately want to join. We are the first to the latest gadget, style trend, name brand sale or other social identifier, because we want to remain relevant. If we wait on something, then we will be behind the curb, out of the norm, perhaps even lonely. If we wait to buy a home, get married, have a baby, then all of our friends will be ahead of us and we will be left to navigate the loss of connection. We may even lose friendships, because we will have less in common with them. (Because Christ-follower friendships are based on what externalities we have in common, right?) The thought of these losses compels us to skip the waiting, even when it might be best not to. We hastily buy a house or rent an apartment when saving money or remaining with what we had before may have been where God wanted to meet us. We cave into the pressure to start dating, get engaged, or marry because that’s what everyone else is expecting, not because it’s what God has asked.

I am currently experiencing that tension. The expectation for me at this stage in my life is to buy a house and have kids. I am a Christian, married and in my 20’s. Isn’t that what I am supposed to do? Scripture commands to “be fruitful and multiply.” Every young couple in my family is having kids. Also, any responsible adult needs a permanent place of residence, right? My husband and I, however, have felt God asking us to wait — to wait on His timing to fulfill our heart’s desires in all of these areas. We are currently renting month-to-month via Airbnb. We are not trying to have kids because we feel compelled to first seek foster care after God directs our living situation. Does this sound extreme? Maybe it does. But that is what we believe God is asking of us right now.

Is there any room in Christian circles for this kind of waiting? Perhaps there should be.

What Does Our God Say About Waiting?

God is not silent on this issue. How many of the characters in His Book has He “‘condemned”’ to wait? Perhaps Job is the most obvious example. Job Chapter 1 begins in the throne room of God where Satan asks to test Job. God agrees. That is the first and the last time we hear God speak until chapter 38. God chooses to wait more than 30 chapters to respond to Job, and Job spends most of that time mired in unproductivity, receiving bad advice from well-meaning friends. This is the first of the myths that our minds and hearts must debunk in order to confront our issues with waiting. We are not ultimately in control of our productivity. Nor is “productivity” the highest value in God’s eyes. He seems to value other things above it, namely a desperation for His presence, which waiting often invokes.

I must confess, the more I think about it the more I struggle to find an example of someone whom God did not ask to wait. Joseph had to wait two years for deliverance from prison, and Jacob 14 years to marry Rachel. David, knowing he was the rightful king, refused to kill Saul, running for his life and waiting on God to grant him his throne.

He had the chance, right? In I Samuel 24, David is hiding out in a cave when "Saul went in to relieve himself." David is so close to his arch enemy, the one standing between him and his rightful throne, that he is able to stealthily cut a piece of cloth from Saul’s robe. Yet, rather than killing the Lord's anointed, David elects to wait.

And wait he did, nearly 15 years between the time that he was anointed king to the time that he actually became king.

This is a self-inflicted, counter-cultural waiting. David’s men told him to seize the opportunity to finally kill the rebellious King Saul. Any other king at that time wouldn't have thought twice about killing an opponent. Wasn’t God graciously providing a way out by allowing David to find Saul at the perfect time, when he was most vulnerable? Somehow, David didn’t see it that way.

There are more examples. Moses, once exiled, worked as a shepherd in Midian for 40 years before he heard God’s voice from a burning bush. God’s people, the Hebrews, wandered another 40 years in the desert with him before reaching the Promised Land. Abraham waited a total of 25 years for God to fulfill His promise of an heir through which Abraham would “bless the nations,” and Jesus Himself waited 30 years, through infancy, puberty, adolescence, and manhood, to begin His ministry.

He also waited 3 days to rise from the dead.

Why not rise instantly? Why make His mother and His dear friends wait so painstakingly? Why wait until they had lost hope?

God has woven waiting into many parts of His world. An oak tree takes 30-40 years to grow into maturity. Some animals are able to walk moments after they are born, but for humans it takes them on average a year, and even then, they’re not all that good at it. We can’t say exactly why He makes some processes fast and others slow, but it seems that we are fighting God’s pattern if we do not even consider waiting in some capacity in our lives.

I can’t help but think that He intentionally wields this weapon against a powerful and damning human enemy: our own self-reliance.

Doing things in life is not what ultimately matters. In his book A Twentieth Century Testimony, Malcolm Muggeridge powerfully reflects:

When I look back on my life nowadays, which I sometimes do, what strikes me most forcibly about it is that what seemed at the time most significant and seductive, seems now most futile and absurd. For instance, success in all of its various guises; being known and being praised; ostensible pleasures, like acquiring money or seducing women, or traveling, going to and fro in the world and up and down in it like Satan, exploring and experiencing whatever Vanity Fair has to offer. In retrospect all these exercises in self-gratification seem pure fantasy, what Pascal called ‘licking the earth.'

As I reflect back on this past year and a half, time I would have spent differently if I were “in charge,” I’m reminded that waiting isn’t just a part of life — it’s a central tenet of God’s intentional plan for each of our lives. My talents are not being “wasted”; they are not, after-all, even mine to waste. My heart’s desire is to be in Peru, caring for children and helping the needy, but God has instructed me to wait. That’s okay.

Waiting is difficult because it is wrapped up in the unseen. But perhaps this is just another part of His objective. And we’d be remiss to forget that God waits more than any of us. And for that, I, a sinner saved by the grace provided by this providential waiting, am eternally grateful.

So, like David, Joseph, Job, and even Jesus, I’ll wait, trusting God to steward the resources that were never mine in the first place.

Note from the editors: This article is part 2 of a two part series on waiting. You can read part 1 here: Desperate for Greatness


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