What to Do When You Run Out of Waiting
As a child, waiting was probably one of the least favorite parts of my day. Whether it was waiting for school to get over, my turn on the swings on the playground, or a thousand other little things, it’s definitely something I could have done without in my life. And as I’ve gotten older, these seasons of waiting have grown significantly less fun; waiting for a promotion, a new house, or a different life-changing event can drag weeks, months, even years. And the longer the waiting, the more my perspective on it becomes sour.
But when I think back on my history of waiting, there is something different from when I was a child to now. When I waited for my next turn for kickball or my bus to finally pull up to my house after a long day at school, I was waiting in pure expectation that my turn would come, practically bouncing on my feet knowing that soon it would be me.
But years change that, experience changes that. Each time something doesn’t quite play out the way we expect it, we begin to wait less with anticipation and more with apathy or, worse, hopelessness.
A simple search on waiting in the Bible brings up dozens of verses and examples. These are individuals who triumphed through periods of loss and hopelessness, their faith in God carrying them through those valleys of darkness and into the fields of joy. People such as Hannah or Elizabeth, who waited expectantly for their dream of a child, or Anna, who waited in expectation of seeing her Savior, Jesus. But one of my favorite stories is of a woman who is only referred to as the Shunammite woman, found in 2 Kings 4:8–37.
The Shunammite woman is not one to be reckoned with. The Bible tells us that she is a wealthy woman living in Shunem, married but without a son. Every time the prophet Elisha comes or passes through the town, she insists he eats at her home. Eventually, she and her husband even build a room for Elisha to stay in when he passes through Shunem.
As time goes on, Elisha wants to thank the Shunammite woman for all she has done and has his servant Gehazi bring the woman to him. When she arrives, she is asked what they can do for her in thanks. The Shunammite woman insists that she needs nothing, and Elisha seems to be at a loss.
He asks his servant Gehazi what he thinks should be done for the woman, and Gehazi mentions that the woman does not have a son and that her husband is old. Deciding that that is the right answer, Elisha asks Gehazi to call the Shunammite woman once more.
When the Shunammite woman comes, she stands in the doorway, and Elisha tells her that she shall have a son around this time next year. Her reaction is one of my favorite parts of this story, as she does not break out into rejoicing but rather says, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant” (vs. 16).
But indeed, by next year, she does have a son, just as Elisha had promised. But the story does not end here, for after her son had grown, he one day had a terrible pain in his head and was carried to his mother, where he then died. At this point, she lays his body in Elisha’s room, closes the door, and walks to her husband, telling him to get a servant and a donkey so that she may find Elisha.
When asked why, she just calmly replies, “All is well” (vs. 26). When she finds Elisha, she says to him, “Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me?” (vs. 28). Elisha tells his servant to bring his staff back to the woman’s son so that he may be healed, but she does not move. She tells Elisha that she will not leave him and that he must come with her back to her son. And so Elisha comes back with her, and her son is returned to her in the end. This story is one that demonstrates God’s power and faithful love to those who choose Him.
There is quite a lot that we can unpack in this 29 verse story, and I think we can all find a bit of ourselves in this Shunammite woman and how we can react in periods of waiting in our own life.
Have you been waiting for so long or disappointed by unanswered requests that you are no longer waiting at all? Are you, like the Shunammite woman, longing for something so much that you will not even ask for it for fear of being disappointed? Is God knocking at your door, seeking to answer your prayers, but perhaps waiting for you to step out in faith and ask?
Are you standing in the doorway, afraid to move forward, afraid to wait, afraid to ask?
Or perhaps you are in a different group, one that has indeed asked and is waiting. After her son’s death, the Shunammite Woman goes to Elisha, saying I told you not to lie to me. Didn’t I say for you not to get my hopes up?!
Here is a woman who has now stepped out of the doorway and fully into faith. When she is on her journey to ask Elisha to awaken her son, she is approached twice, once by her husband and once by Elisha’s servant, and both times she calmly reassures them that all is well. The Shunammite woman knows that she was promised a child. She knows that God had fulfilled His past promise to her and seems to be sure that all will indeed be well.
The Bible tells us that God keeps His promises and that we can trust in Him. We have all experienced disappointment or unanswered prayers in life, but we have different ways we can respond to these periods of waiting. Do we stand silent in the doorway? Or do we boldly ask, moving forward with faith and trust? While waiting may never be a favorite part of life, the choice to step out of the doorway with faith and expectation is one we must all learn to take.