Over the years, the words therefore and nevertheless have laid hold of me. Therefore sought me out and became my first “Word of the Year” while nevertheless was introduced by a friend. It’s funny how peripheral something can be until you stare directly at it; then, once it’s seen, it cannot be unseen. That has been my relationship with these two words. While I used to visually walk right by them, now I all but trip over them at every turn. Though I try, with pen in hand, to tag them as I read, sometimes I have to let one or two slide by (to be captured at another time) so I can focus on the words around them.
“For God may speak in one way, or in another, yet man does not perceive it.” Job 33:14
Have you ever listened to a stream? If so, you know that it can speak in many tones. It may be soft and hushed, loud and boisterous, or almost imperceptible as it moves along its course. As I was sitting beside our creek the other day, I listened to the sounds of the water and thought of all the different voices I had heard from it over the years. There have been times when I could hear its movement from the back deck, more than 100 feet away; other times I have had to crouch beside a rocky curve in order to hear it speak; and there have been times when I didn’t hear it at all, but as I looked upon its ripples, I knew it was still on course…still moving…still communicating; even though undetectable to my ears, it was evident to my eyes.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that water and communication share some of the same vocabulary terms. After all, both involve the movement of things from a place of origin to a point of destination and, in so doing, follow a predetermined course. Both rely upon waves and currents to move from place to place and, thanks to the internet, we can now add “live streaming” to the list of shared terminologies. Unfortunately, as our accessibility to speedy communication has increased, so too has our expectation of a speedy response. And, as we have become accustomed to rapid response rates from others, so too have we come to expect them…even demand them…from God. We want to send, and receive, with the fluidity of water, but we forget that, sometimes, messages flow through the wait as much as through the waves.
In Isaiah 30:18, the prophet writes, “Therefore, the LORD will wait for you, that He may gracious to you; and therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him.” When we examine this text, we learn there is purpose in the wait. In fact, there is grace and mercy in the wait! God, the Creator of time, could answer us before we even form a question; could send the provisions before we even make the request; could live stream His response even as our knees are bending and our heads are bowing. He could, but He doesn’t. He doesn’t, because He’s gracious…because while we want to avoid the silence, He wants us to enter into it…and to listen…and to hear…and to wait. It’s the opposite of what we think communication is. For us, communication has a short shelf-life; it is sending and receiving, speaking and hearing, writing and reading, and, perhaps, ebbing and flowing…but only if it’s done quickly; there’s no time for the Lazy River Ride…we want the Tsunami Twist! But in God’s communication with us, He invites us to sit along the bank and to listen to the language of the stream.
Sometimes His voice is quiet, and we have to lean in to hear…so close that His breath brushes our cheek as “our ears hear a voice behind us saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’” (Isaiah 30:21). Other times, His voice is clear and distinct as when He says, “My sheep hear My voice and I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:27). And then there are the times we thought we heard…it seemed like there was something that just passed by our receptors…but we didn’t quite grasp it. “For God may speak in one way, or in another, yet man does not perceive it.” (Job 33:14). So many nuances to His voice and to His purposes and plans not only in the response but also in the timing of the response. Just like the water in the creek, God’s messages to us move at their own pace and with their own level of sound, but they always move, they always flow.
I think David saw this connection between moving water and the living, speaking Word too. In Psalm 1, he refers to man’s need to be planted by streams of water; in Psalm 23, he walks beside still waters; in Psalm 42, he speaks of having a great thirst for the water; and in Psalm 46, David records that the streams not only flow from God but to God. There is something about the characteristics of water that draw our minds to the nature of the One who created it. It may be gentle and refreshing, powerful and foreboding, unfathomable and awesome, but it is life-giving and life-sustaining; we cannot live, much less grow, without it. Such is our need for God; such is the necessity of hearing from Him.
Sometimes we want our communication with God to resemble our communication with others; we want to quickly give and even more speedily receive. But we need to remember that God has much to tell us while we seem to be “on hold”. It is during these silences that He takes us back to what He has already told us, to what we know to be true, to the assurances of His word that never, ever change. While we await new messages, He invites us to replay the old ones; while we want to listen with our ears, He desires that we listen with our hearts, to never misinterpret the silence as indifference…to know that…at the very minimum, not only have we been acknowledged…we have been heard because God’s thoughts are always on us.
“How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them,
Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I am awake, I am still with You.” -Psalm 139:17-18
I don’t go to the creek as often as I’d like and I don’t listen to God as intently as I should. I wish I could say otherwise; I wish that by writing what I know to be true, it would…by decree…happen, but that isn’t how things work. I cannot drink one day and expect to be nourished from that point on. I must go daily to the waters that flow from God; I must come with my empty cup that it may be filled, and I must learn to listen not only with my ears, but also with my heart and with my eyes. I must remember that sometimes the waters roar, sometimes they gently lap, and sometimes they flow silently, but they always move, they always proceed, they always follow their course. Live streaming? It can happen, but even when it doesn’t, the abundant waters always flow…the communication never ceases.
Peace in the Pregnant Pause
“Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you, and therefore He will be exulted, that He may have mercy on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him.” Isaiah 30:18
Have you ever felt like you were living in a pregnant pause? That place where nothing is happening, where life is suspended, where it seems as if everything around you is holding its breath? For comedians, the pregnant pause is that abbreviated time right before the punch line is delivered where its location and longevity can make the difference between peals of laughter and eye-rolls of lament. In conversations, the pregnant pause is when something thought provoking has been stated which beckons a response; the silence that ensues may be weighty or even awkward, but it is also filled with anticipation for the reply that is certain to come forth. In our day-to-day lives we too experience these lapses.
Recently, I saw a drawing of a man’s hand holding a pen over a written document. It was clear that the man was writing something, but had momentarily paused. Perhaps he was gathering his thoughts; perhaps he was rereading what he had previously written; perhaps his attention had been diverted by someone or something else in the room; perhaps it was simply a picture of a hand writing, with no underlying “meaning of life” embedded in it! But for a moment, I felt an attachment to that drawing; I felt as if it was a portrait of my life. I saw where there was a page with writing on it (the page is my life and the written words are that portion of my story I have lived out thus far); I saw where the blank page extended with room for continued writing (my future, the place where the rest of my story will be written); I saw the pen that could be used for writing (the tool God chooses for making strokes upon my page); and I saw the hand that held the pen (God’s hand, my Author, the writer of my story), but the hand wasn’t moving…it was poised, and paused, above the paper. It was in this suspension that I saw my current situation; here I saw an illustration of what I have been feeling: the pregnant pause. This is where I am; this is where I wait; a character in my own story awaiting the movement of the Author’s pen across my page. I hold my breath; I wait for the laughter (and pray there won’t be any eye-rolling); I anticipate God’s interjection (Your ear will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21); I pray for God’s perfect timing…and, if it’s His will…for His insertion of comedic relief!
Can you relate to this? Have you ever been in a place where your story seems to have come to a halt? As the character within the story, you can’t turn the page and as one who is dependent upon the Author for a voice, you can’t even say anything! You just have to wait for the pen to move. If only, you think, you could write your own story! Then, there would be no more waiting, no more delays, no more pregnant pauses. But, if God is the Author of our lives and He chooses to allow these times of suspension, then it must be that they are not without meaning. Somehow, these pauses must be necessary, purposeful even, to our story. If this is true, then there must be examples of such moments of suspension in other people’s lives. I turned to the recorded stories of people in the Bible; if their lives were marked by pregnant pauses then I could be certain of two things: pregnant pauses were pervasive and pregnant pauses were purposeful.
As I leafed through the accounts of men and women in the Bible, I found upon each person’s page the evidence of a pregnant pause. First, there was Abraham and his 25-year pause as he awaited the fulfillment of God’s promise for a son. Then there was Joseph, who endured years of enslavement and imprisonment before his dreams were realized; surely he felt like there were times when God’s hand was suspended above his page as he longed for God’s pen to move. Moses’ story is filled with pauses too and, if there were such an award, he would be a contender for the Pregnant Pause Pulitzer. Having experienced one 40-year pause following his exile from Egypt, he then endured another 40-year pause as he led the children of Israel to the Promised Land. Another example is Mary, the mother of Jesus. Her pregnant pause was both literal and figurative as her life was divinely interrupted with the words, “You shall conceive and bear a Son…”. And, who can forget Mary and Martha’s four-day pause? While it may seem short in comparison to those previously mentioned, I imagine their 4-day wait for Jesus’ arrival felt like a 40-year suspension. I could go on, offering as further examples the lives of Caleb, Ruth, David, Simeon, John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul. The truth is, we all experience these pauses at some time In our life; at some point in our story. But as we learn from Abraham, Moses, Mary, and the others, these pauses were not places where God simply stopped writing but rather places where He allowed a pause to actually add to their story, a place to build anticipation not anxiety; to inscribe trust, to engrave faith, to accentuate purpose. With each pause, God prepared the person for what was to come. The pauses were truly pregnant in that they all resulted in some type of delivery. For Abraham, there was the arrival of Isaac and the birth of a nation; for Moses there was the delivery of God’s people from Egypt; for Mary there was the birth of a Savior; for Mary and Martha there was the resurrection of their brother Lazarus from the tomb. All of these are life-altering and faith-building events; the kind that must be preceded by a moment of suspense, a moment that properly heralds the arrival of what is about to be written.
So if these pauses are divinely timed and purposefully planned, then shouldn’t our perspective of them change? How do we come to a place of peace within the pause? The only way I can find to do this is to change my focal point. Rather than looking at the blank portion of my page, I need to keep my eyes fixed and focused upon the hand that is ever present and waiting to continue my manuscript. I am not to focus on the page; it is not mine to fill; I am not to focus on the written portion, it has already been completed; I am not to focus on the pen, it is not mine to move; I am to focus on the Author and await the movement of His hand. And so I wait; still in the pregnant pause, still awaiting the continuation of my story. But now I can wait with peace; now I can know that the pause is purposeful…and powerful…and pregnant with possibilities!
So I look again at that picture that seems to illustrate my life, but rather than feeling that my story is in suspension, I now see that it is in preparation. The hand will move, the pen will etch, the story will continue, and the timing will be perfect and complete. And the anticipated laughter? It too will erupt because my Writer has perfect timing…both cosmic and comedic! And my deliverance from the pause? Well, that too will emerge as heaven exclaims, “And now, for the rest of the story!”