Waiting

by Nancy Scott


The tide is coming in now. It makes tide-pooling a little riskier than a couple of hours ago when I began. It is a short walk to the first tide pools, and still, I don’t get here until almost noon. When I come here, I don’t hurry. In fact, I come here to slow down. I come here to remember about waiting.

Even so, at the first tide pool, I look with hurried eyes, wanting to see something, anything. The water looks empty at first glance. In my younger days I would have moved on, scouting around for some “action.”

But not today. Today I wait. I decide to look more closely. And before long, I see. First, I see the tiny barnacles, covering the rocks. The ones that are still submerged in the pool are moving. They are opening and closing. Suddenly I am aware that the entire floor of the tide pool is moving: tiny barnacles, opening and closing. Then I see the bugs zipping around—amphipods—the name finally comes back to me. There are several sizes and colors of amphipods and a marine millipede. Then I see the anemones: they are everywhere, attached to the rocks, flowing when the water moves. But now, with no incoming water, they are still. Finally, I see the tiny blennies, a fish that is its largest at an inch long. They have long been a favorite of mine, and if I had not waited, I would have overlooked them entirely. The pool is alive with life, and if I had hurried on, I would have missed out on seeing it, on knowing it.

And so I wait. As I wait, I look more closely at the barnacles. I become aware that these little creatures wait as a way of life. They are attached to the rocks; they can’t move. They have to wait right here for the tide to come back. Some get quite dry while they wait. Some die waiting. But in a few hours the ocean will return, and by its faithfulness these tiny creatures will be refreshed as they are once again submerged. I am not so good as they at waiting.

But like the barnacles, I must wait. My waiting also is at times a painful, drying-out experience. And sometimes I don’t think I will survive it. But finally, in time, the tide returns, and I am refreshed. At low tide, I am tempted to despair, to worry that God has forgotten me. But He is faithful, and often at what feels to me like the last hour, He reminds me of this. He reminds me that He is here, designing and directing this life, a life that can look random and chaotic from my point of view. His purposes remain mysterious to me, but I trust that He is good. Even in this mystery, as my heart breaks again and again at the suffering I observe around me and within me, I come to know it more certainly: He is here, and He is good. Once again I am given eyes to see. Once again, the tide comes in.

As I watch the barnacles waiting for the tide, I reflect on my own experience of waiting. I am not attached to a rock. My life offers many opportunities for distraction, for moving fast, for not waiting. Whether work or entertainment or home projects, I can find enjoyable activities, good ones, to fill my time. Yet I notice that the faster I go, the faster I want to go. And I do go faster, sometimes until I am spinning, anxiously, inside and out. So first I must wait. I must slow down and let the pain catch up.

It is at the times when I most need to sit still, to wait, that I do not want to. I sense my growing dread. I feel afraid—I’m not sure of what. If I sit still, if I wait, I may have to discover a painful truth. I may have to know that I feel dried out, sad, scared. I move faster, hoping to outrun the uneasiness, hoping it will go away. But I am learning that it doesn’t go away—at least not by running from it. Oh yes, I remember, the tide. I must wait.

So I sit still. And my fears slowly begin to surface. I feel them. I know them. I am afraid of so many things. I am afraid to be alone. I am afraid to be with people. I am afraid of loving. I am afraid of not loving. I am afraid to fail. I am afraid I will be failed. I am afraid I am “wrong,” in a way others are not. I am so very afraid.

Then I remember. It is so hard to be human. In my frailty, I remember the familiar ache and the depth of my fear. And then, the tide comes. I remember what is true. I remember that God is here, that He is my Creator, and that He is merciful. I remember that we are all alone and afraid—and that we are not alone, really. I remember that God has not promised that this life will be comfortable, but He has promised to give it purpose. And He has promised a life to come—one in which my fears will be overcome at last. I remember the tide. It comes back. It is faithful. It is refreshing. And once again I trust that God is here and He is good.

There was a time when I had not gotten to the “bottom” of my fears. My trepidation and my speed kept me from sitting still long enough. It was just too frightening. Yet, with some gentle encouragement from a friend, I realized that I could not keep running forever. I remember the day, alone in my living room, on the threshold of a panic attack, when I buried my face in a pillow and cried out to God. It dawned on me that my feelings could not actually hurt me, and I could let them proceed to wherever they might go. In that moment I was free to feel afraid—afraid, rather than anxious. I saw then that my fear is information—important information about my life and whether I am safe.

And so I recognize that I am not safe, if safety is freedom from discomfort. I am not safe, if safety is never being hurt or disappointed. I am not safe, if being safe is never suffering loss again. I am not safe from being human, from being a creature. But I am safe in another way—in a bigger sense. I am safe because God is here and He is good. I am safe because He keeps His promises. Paul’s words in Romans 8 remind me of what is true: nothing can separate me from the love of God. Nothing. Not even my fear.

In my rebellion, however, I often demand safety on my own terms. I don’t want to be a creature. I run fast; I don’t want to feel the fear. In the end, I don’t want to know that I am a creature, vulnerable before the God who is in charge of my life. I want to find ways to believe that I am in charge and that I have control.

But the frailty of my humanness is a reality. And it continues to slam into me in various ways. I cannot escape the bounds of my creaturehood, no matter how hard I try, no matter how fast I run. I am not, ultimately, in charge of the circumstances of my life. While it is true that I have choices and that my choices matter, it is also true that, beyond the scope of my choices, God is directing my life and writing the story. It is my story, but it is, even more fundamentally, His story. He is the author, and I am the character. I am finite, and it is the infinite God who sets the limits on my life, not me. So I am not safe because I am not in charge. And my rebel heart does not want to know this. And so, I run.

Here at the tide pool, I notice that God is slowly changing my rebel heart, and this gives me hope. I am learning that, as uncomfortable as it might feel at first, it is good to reduce my speed, to slow down, to wait. I am learning that it is good to let the pain catch up. It is honest to feel the fear, the sadness, the pain.

The speed, the restlessness, is understandable, but it is not helpful. Though the anxiety itself can be quite uncomfortable, my rebel heart can deem it preferable to the deeper pain. So it can distract me and provide me with a false defense from the real fear. But it takes me away from myself and from those I love.

The fear, when I finally get to it, is real; it has substance. I sense it is valuable to know it and to trust God with it. From there, I can reconnect with myself and with those I love. The tide flows once again. I am refreshed, hopeful. And now, I am not alone; I am not afraid.

And somehow, through my suffering, God teaches me that He is good. I can slow down in order to know this. And I can rest here. I can wait for the tide, knowing it will return once again and water my soul.

Copyright September 2004 by McKenzie Study Center, an institute of Gutenberg College.

Nancy Scott