3 Steps to Master the Art of Active Waiting

active-waiting-4“Active waiting.” Isn’t that an oxymoron? We associate the word “active” with movement and energy. And isn’t “waiting” a passive term? Can we really simultaneously do both?

Consider the Serenity Prayer:

“Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

It challenges us to practice a healthy balance of action and contemplation. But how exactly do we discern when to step up and when to stand down with each new decision?

1. Have a conversation with God

Turn to God first. Not only because God knows our inner workings, tics, desires and weaknesses, but also because God just “gets it.” In moments of tough discernment (making big decisions like finding a job, starting or ending a relationship, moving, etc.) we can get caught up with asking others and getting pulled in all sorts of directions. It can get confusing with so many voices, yet God’s is always the truest and often the quietest. God understands uncertainty, suffering and discomfort. Sometimes it can feel like talking to dead air when all we receive in response is silence, but God is there and listening. Yes, even in those angry moments, the sad, soppy moments, even the I-have-no-words-for-you-right-now moments … just offering it to God is enough. The good, the bad and the ugly, God can handle us at our best and our worst.

2. Take action 

Now that you have had your discussion with God (whether in desperate whispering or frustrated shouting), it’s your turn to pick a direction and start moving. Think about what you want. Yes, you have a say in what happens in your life. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “I’ll do whatever God wants me to do.” There is truth to this, but God wants us to be joyful and passionate. He wants us to follow our healthy desires because He put them there. There are many ways to please God in what we do. Discovering your best way might require a little curiosity, exploration, trial and error, discussions with friends, reading, researching, etc. Don’t just sit there like a bump on a log — do something! Set things in motion. Don’t just think about job hunting: send out resumes. Don’t just hope that difficult conversation comes up: take initiative and start talking. Don’t just imagine what it would be like to follow a religious vocation: research it, visit the community, and see if it’s a good fit. Don’t just daydream about what it would be like to take that person out on a date: ask. God won’t barge in and do everything himself — we need to willingly seek before we can find.

3. Watch things unfold

Let go, and see what happens. This is the part when the virtue of patience proves to be so difficult. Give the Spirit some time to work. Rest easy knowing that you have done your part for now. One thing to remember: Distractions aren’t always a bad thing. Take a friend for coffee. Keep your hands busy with a hobby. Get outside. Exercise. I like to think that God wouldn’t tease us, that once we lose something, we won’t encounter anything like that again. If this opportunity slips away, another will come. It will be different, but it might be better. Leave room for risk and allow yourself to be surprised.

I see active waiting as a metaphorical tango: It takes skill both to lead and to follow. There is a gentle but firm give and take in this little dance. There are times to wait and times to act. Finding that balance is all part of the relationship between waiting and acting. Like the tango, it takes practice and a good partner. The good thing is, God’s got your back!