Podcast: Embrace the Discomfort of Waiting (Mark Vroegop)

2 weeks ago 19

This article is part of the The Crossway Podcast series.

Waiting Time Isn’t Wasted Time

In this episode, Mark Vroegop offers his thoughts on the difficult yet important question of what it looks like to wait well as a Christian. Like all of us, he has experienced difficult seasons of waiting, and like most of us, he didn’t always handle them very well. But God has taught Mark a few things about waiting, and he is eager to share that hard-won wisdom.

Waiting Isn't a Waste

Waiting Isn't a Waste

Mark Vroegop

In Waiting Isn’t a Waste, author Mark Vroegop explores 6 characteristics of waiting, calling believers to lean on Christ when we are uncertain about our lives, but certain about God.

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Topics Addressed in This Interview:

01:13 - The Danger of Wasting Our Waiting

Matt Tully
Mark, thanks for joining me again on The Crossway Podcast.

Mark Vroegop
Matt, it’s great to be on the program here with you today.

Matt Tully
Mark, we all know that it’s possible to waste our time. And I think that’s a common struggle that we have—time wasting. I think many of us would feel the urge to fight against it. We know it’s not a good thing to waste our time. But in your new book, you are raising the alarm about another danger of wasting something that we all experience, but maybe one that we don’t think as much about—wasting our waiting. So to start us off, why did that topic, the idea of wasting our waiting, feel urgent to you?

Mark Vroegop
Because I stink at waiting, and I wanted to get better at this idea in the Bible that’s just all over the place—calling people to wait on the Lord. There are enormous promises like Isaiah 40, that they that wait on the Lord are going to renew their strength. They’re going to mount up with wings like eagles. They’re going to run and not grow weary and walk and not faint. I mean, what a promise! And yet when I look back on my life and when I look back in the last couple of years and I see some pretty pronounced gap land moments where I was forced to wait, I’ve found that those have not been seasons that I naturally learned to wait easily, but I resist it. And so I wanted to explore that and come alongside the reader in inviting them to be a fellow journeyer with me in learning how to not waste my waiting anymore. And so that was the purpose of the book. I’m not an expert on waiting; I’m still very much in process, but one who wants to learn what it really means to wait on the Lord.

Matt Tully
That echoes things you said about your lament book that you did, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, where, again, you kind of came to that saying this is something that I need to learn first and foremost. You were sharing what you were learning as you did that. It seems like with the issue of waiting that it’s one of those topics that we kind of intellectually know is important for the Christian life. We know that there are Scriptures that speak to the importance of waiting. But it’s one of those where it’s so much easier to talk about in the abstract, but when we get into those seasons of waiting, whatever that might be, it can just be so hard to actually do that well.

Mark Vroegop
It is. And that’s part of the challenge of even how we think about waiting. In the Bible, waiting and hope actually go together. Sometimes translators will take the same Hebrew word and they’ll render it waiting or wait or hope or hoping. But in our modern context, waiting and hope are not connected at all. In fact, if you ask most people, Is waiting hopeful? people say, No! It’s awful. It should be avoided and prevented at all costs! And so there’s an opportunity, though, that the Bible talks about that God is able to meet us in those gap moments, and we’re able to think and consider who he is. And I think that’s one of the reasons he’s built gaps into our lives is if we got everything we wanted and we got it in the timing with which we expected it, just think how awful we would be. Waiting is a reminder that I’m not in control of my life. This reminder happens all the time, and I think it’s an opportunity for us to shift our focus from I don’t know what’s true about my life to here’s what is true about God. And that’s how I define waiting in the book: learning to live on what I know to be true about God when I don’t know what’s true about my life.

Matt Tully
What are some of the gap moments that you’ve experienced over the last few years that kind of come to mind as you think about this topic of waiting?

Mark Vroegop
One big one was actually, if you think about the subject of lament, after the loss of our daughter in 2004 and then multiple miscarriages, finally my wife and I were pregnant again, and we had to wait for nine months. And this time, though, we weren’t grieving, but we were really wrestling knowing that the previous pregnancy, only a few days before delivery, had ended in death. And so here we are just waiting for our daughter to be born. And by God’s grace, she was. She’s eighteen-years-old. And so that was a really important moment of waiting. And then I think about the last number of years in church and pastoral ministry. With the global pandemic and all the things that kind of circled around that global experience, there were so many things that were just very much out of our control, out of my control. And I found those moments so filled with tension and so filled with difficulty that I had to re-learn, if you will, how to take those gap moments, see them as good, and realize that there are things that God is teaching me through this. It’s uncomfortable. I don’t like it. But instead of resisting it, I need to embrace it.

Matt Tully
Two facets of waiting that I feel like I’m hearing from you, and I’ve probably only thought of one more than the other, are waiting entails this kind of delayed reception of something good that we want (there’s this delay, it’s a gap); but I also hear a little bit from you that so often in our waiting there’s often this sense of uncertainty. We’re not actually sure how things are going to turn out. Things could go wrong, perhaps. I think of the story of your daughter. How big a factor is that—the uncertainty about the future—that is part of what makes waiting so hard?

Mark Vroegop
I think it’s right dead center in it. Waiting is challenging because it surfaces the fact that I’m not as in control of my life as what I would like to be. And as a result, we try to fill those gaps with unhelpful responses like anger. We get mad and we try to use emotion to force change. Or anxiety—I’m going to overthink about this and try and figure out how to solve this problem. Or apathy—we throw up our hands and we’re like, Well, I’m just giving up. It’s sort of this emotional protection. And uncertainty is in the middle of all of that. Even when we’re waiting for something good or when we’re waiting for something that we desire, when you can’t control when that’s delivered, your humanity and your limits are brought right front and center. And it’s a reminder that I am not sovereign. I’m not God. And I need to be reminded who is. And that’s why the Bible commends waiting on the Lord. It’s a reminder of who he is when you don’t know what’s going on in your life.

07:34 - Why Do We Avoid Waiting?

Matt Tully
So then help paint a picture for us. What might it look like for us to waste our waiting?

Mark Vroegop
To waste the waiting is to, first, see waiting fundamentally as something that should be avoided or as bad or as something that’s inherently negative. We can waste it just because categorically we think we’re not wrongly or unbiblically about it. To be a Christian means that we’re presently waiting. We’re waiting for the return of Jesus. There are all kinds of things in our life that are seasons of waiting. So there can be this categorical wasting. There can be this practical wasting, where all I can focus on is the fact of what I don’t know. I can try and fill that gap with all kinds of responses and reactions. We can waste it by not intentionally waiting. God provides opportunities for us to make decisions. And sometimes we just get into sort of a role, or a decision making urgency, where we don’t even stop and think. Maybe we need to just pause and wait on the Lord for a moment. So we’re missing opportunities, we’re wasting the moments that are in front of us, or we see something that the Bible sees is actually good as something that’s bad. And those are some ways I think that many of us waste our waiting.

Matt Tully
I know some people might be thinking right now, This makes me think of my friend that I have who just seems so calm, so unflappable, and their personality just kind of lends itself to a peace and a contentment even when they’re waiting for something. And maybe for this person listening, they feel like their personality is such that they really struggle with this. How much of our struggle with waiting could be tied to issues of personality? Is that a big factor, or do you think it’s something that every Christian needs to learn how to do?

Mark Vroegop
I’m sure every Christian needs to learn it in some way. I think there are personality factors, though, or experiences that inform how we view waiting in the immediate experience. My personality is driven towards action. I’m not a passive person.

Matt Tully
You’re a 1 on the Enneagram, right?

Mark Vroegop
I think I’m a 1 on the Enneagram. My last name, Vroegop, in Dutch literally means “early up.” I feel like it’s hardwired and baked into who I am that I want to get things done. And then in pastoral ministry and thinking about reaching the world with the gospel, that doesn’t help either when it comes to waiting. So I think there are some folks who are maybe more reflective and they’re less action oriented, but as I’ve pastored even those people, they still hit the waiting wall where their expectations of how long something was going to take goes beyond what they were hoping. But I do think there are some of us who have a propensity to see waiting more negatively because of our bias toward action.

Matt Tully
It also seems like our culture—modern American culture, that’s where we live—is just oriented away from waiting and more towards immediacy and action. We’ve observed that a lot in different contexts over the years. It seems like our culture can sometimes impact us. Do you think that’s a big factor? How have you seen that affect even your own life?

Mark Vroegop
Yeah, totally. I’m sure waiting was problematic a hundred years ago. I think to not wait is a human inclination, again, because it confronts our control. But we live in an environment where, man, not waiting is monetized.

Matt Tully
And technology has allowed us to not wait a lot more than in the past.

Mark Vroegop
One hundred percent. Or to pick up your phone and not wait with an answer to a question. I’m sitting at an event last night wondering, How much did it cost to build this stadium? I can just look it up and boom, there it is right in front of me. Any question or instant accessibility to our friends or family—Hey, what time are you going to be home?

Matt Tully
You text your spouse, and if five minutes goes by and I haven’t heard back, I’m a little bit annoyed.

Mark Vroegop
Absolutely. You even have particular status symbols associated with not waiting—being able to go in the fast pass line or a drive through. We’re praising fast food restaurants because the wait time is so little. And we live in an environment where just all day long we’re told, directly or indirectly, waiting is something you shouldn’t have to do. So then when you enter into spiritual formation that takes time, involves gaps, involves uncertainty—and those are most of the moments where real spiritual formation takes place in a beautiful and powerful way—most of us are just really unaccustomed to that experience. We just have no clue that that’s a normal part of what it means to be human and to be a Christian.

12:16 - Waiting for Marriage

Matt Tully
I thought it could be interesting to think about a few different types of waiting, common areas in which we might be forced to wait as Christians, and have you ask some questions that people could ask themselves—some self-assessment questions to help us understand, Am I wasting my waiting here? Is my mindset correct when it comes to this waiting that I’m experiencing? The first category of person would be someone waiting for marriage. What are a few self-assessment questions you might offer to that person, even as a pastor sitting across from them, if they ask you, Am I wasting my waiting?

Mark Vroegop
One would be, What are your expectations in terms of when you thought by what age you would be married, or your expectation of what you thought your life in total was going to look like? The other one would be, Is this something that you’re not only praying about in terms of, God, I’d like to no longer be single, but also are you using the season to learn every lesson that God wants to teach you in it? Because that’s part of the problem. That’s true with any kind of waiting is that the shift has to take place or we’ll waste our waiting if we don’t turn from I wish my life was different or I wish I had what I was longing for—even if it’s a good thing. And that shift then goes from that to while that’s true, there are things that God wants to teach me in this moment that I really want to embrace. And so you pursue both of those at the same time. Still praying that I could be married, but also I don’t want to miss any lesson the Lord has for me in this moment.

Matt Tully
That can be so hard for us to navigate that. On the one hand, we don’t want to deny that I want marriage. We don’t want to deny that desire that maybe the Lord has given us, a good desire, but we also don’t know how to hold on to that desire and affirm that desire, but then also be content in where we’re at and look for the Lord’s work there. How do you hold those two things together?

Mark Vroegop
Yeah, it’s hard. And that is something that requires a really significant step of faith. And I think it’s one of the, frankly, one of the most risky things that we do is to say, I would like something that is good, but it’s not been provided to me. And I’m still going to trust that God knows that this good thing he has presently withheld from me. It’s one thing to ask that question when really bad things happen. That’s a hard question to wrestle with in that moment. It’s hard in a different way when you want something good and it’s not come to you. There’s a different set of questions, a different set of spiritual struggles that somebody is kind of working through. So I love, for instance, Psalm 69 and how it describes how difficult waiting is. It says in Psalm 69:3, “I am weary with my crying out. My throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.” And yet that Psalm is also filled with all kinds of hope. But in that moment, the psalmist is being honest: This waiting thing is really hard. And so I think that’s what can be really hopeful to people who are in those seasons of realizing this is not an easy thing to do. And yet you can apply faith and trust to it as God grants you courage. He grants you strength, that’s promised in the Bible, as you’re clinging to him when you don’t know what’s true about your life.

Matt Tully
That can be such a temptation for us to think that as I wait for something, as my faith goes up, the difficulty of the waiting should go down. But that’s not always the case.

Mark Vroegop
Sometimes it is, but there’s also a lot of seasons where the desire for what it is that you would want or what you’re hoping in is still really strong. And at the same time, the learning to live on what you know about God and what’s true about him is also strong. And so two strong things can be true at the exact same time. And instead of giving up, we can say, I desire this, and I trust God. Both are true.

16:09 - Waiting for Children

Matt Tully
Speak to the person who is waiting for children. It’s a couple that would love to have children. This has been a dream of theirs for years, perhaps, and yet the Lord just has not given them children yet.

Mark Vroegop
It’s such a real pain and a familiar one. I have this conversation with folks at my church all the time. And it’s important to acknowledge the desire for children is a good thing. We love children. God loves image bearers. Why he doesn’t fulfill that desire for every couple in the timeframe in which they want is a great and very hard mystery. The only solution to making it through that kind of season is to realize that God has purposes in this moment that are even better than our desire for a good thing, like a child. And that may not feel true because the feeling of desiring of a child seems is so much stronger and would seem better than whatever it is that God is doing. But as I’ve talked with folks who’ve walked through seasons of delay with being able to conceive a child or long-term infertility, there are things that God teaches them that are unwelcomed, that are hard, but are really beautiful. And one of the things I would encourage that couple to consider is it’s hard right now, but five years from now, you’re going to start to see the tapestry that God is weaving. It’s a tapestry that you wouldn’t want, but there’s things that he’s doing. So instead of completely resisting this moment, I’d encourage the couple to be able to live in the tension of what they want and also what it means to wait on the Lord and to embrace that as something that there’s a lot of good in it, although it’s not easy.

Matt Tully
I’m just struck that this whole conversation of waiting, learning to wait on the Lord and trust him really rests on the foundation of a confidence in the Lord’s sovereignty over our lives and over all these hard situations that we find ourselves in, all these delays that we might experience. If we don’t believe that he’s ultimately in control of those things, the waiting would be virtually impossible.

Mark Vroegop
Absolutely. That text that I quoted at the beginning of our conversation, Isaiah 40, it has beautiful statements like “rise like with wings like eagles.” But before that, it says, “Have you not known, have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God. He is the creator of the ends of the earth.” So there’s something about waiting and that reality of who God is that’s absolutely tied together. And quite frankly, waiting really tests our theology. It tests can we live on what we know to be true about God? Can we? Can that be emotionally helpful to us when I’m obsessing about what I don’t know and trying to figure out if I can stop doing that? Can I shift my focus? And this is one very practical thing that I found to be helpful is to just remind myself that the Lord is my light, the Lord is my salvation, the Lord is my shepherd, the Lord is my rock. I actually just go through those “The Lord is” statements to really preach to my heart. I can live in this tension because of what I know to be true about God. It doesn’t make it easy, but I can live on him. That’s really what it means to be a follower of Jesus in the first place.

19:18 - Waiting for Good Health

Matt Tully
Let’s speak to one last category of person—someone who is waiting for their health to return. I’m thinking of someone who’s maybe struggling with sickness or disease or some kind of ailment. People often speak about how these long-term ailments can just have a certain impact on us that unless you’ve experienced it, you don’t really understand what that’s like to go through. How might they consider what it would be to not waste their waiting?

Mark Vroegop
That’s a great question. One of the ways is to look back on the ways in which, in a person’s own history, seasons of waiting yielded really good fruit, both in terms of what God did and also the story of what he’s written in their life. There’s nothing wrong with praying for healing. There’s nothing wrong with asking God to shorten the wait period that you’re in. And yet there’s something really amazing and spiritually powerful as God meets us in those gap moments and reminds us that he is our portion. He is the one to whom we can take take refuge in. We’re reminded that we’re not in control all the time by all kinds of circumstances, but our physical health is a really poignant reminder that my life really is in the hands of my Creator. It’s one of the reasons why just understanding what the say about God’s role and our role is really important. Sometimes I think we mistakenly assume that we understand who we are in our own story. For example, parents teach their children to wait because they know what’s best for their children. And I think so many of us approach our lives as though we’re our own parents for our own story. And the reality is God’s the parent, we’re the child. Our health and other situations in which we’re called to wait remind us that I may have the narrative wrong about my own life. I’m a child of God. I’m not God.

Matt Tully
I have three young kids right now, and my wife and I know what it is to tell our kids no, to make them wait for things. Again, it’s because we have the bigger picture. We understand more than they understand. We know it’s good for them in ways that they don’t understand. And so it’s easy for us to see the wisdom of what we’re thinking compared to what they might want in the moment. But it’s so hard for us to put ourselves in that child position when it comes to God. We do ultimately kind of think we know what’s best.

Mark Vroegop
Absolutely. Faith is a belief in what you can’t see. Trust is putting your confidence in what you can’t grab a hold of. And all of that is true, and then it’s really important for how that’s applied in these gap moments. In the book I argue that we waste our waiting because we’re so busy with what we’re missing that we don’t even remember what we have, or we are so enamored or thinking that we’re the parent of our own story instead of just embracing, I’m a child of God. He’s in control of my life. This isn’t easy, but I’m going to choose to live on what I know to be true about him when I don’t know what’s going on with my life.

22:36 - Be Still, and Know That I Am God

Matt Tully
So I think we couldn’t have this conversation about waiting without talking about one verse in particular that I think probably came to mind. I think you’ve actually already referenced it once. Psalm 46:10—that classic verse: “Be still, and know that I am God.” That’s a verse that we bring out a lot in different contexts, but I know, for me at least, it’s a verse that I maybe have never felt like I really understand. What is that saying? What does it mean to be still and know that God is God? And how does that contrast perhaps to the things that we might tend to want to do? How would you unpack that verse?

Mark Vroegop
I think stillness is, at least in my life, it’s the active pursuit of waiting on God on purpose. So I’m going to be still. I’m going to choose to wait. So much of our experience with waiting is reactive—I’m in a gap because of some providential circumstance that’s a part of my life. But I think what the psalmist is getting to there is a reminder that waiting on the Lord or being still before him is a helpful, regular discipline. And just to remind us to slow down. Rest your confidence in who God is. Not everything in your life is going to happen quickly. Be still, and know that he is God. And in that way, I think stillness is a reorientation, if you will, from the busyness, the activities of life, a reminder of who we are and who God is and that we can rest in his presence.

Matt Tully
The stillness is meant to serve not as an end in itself; it’s serving this greater awareness of God’s Godness in contrast to us.

Mark Vroegop
Absolutely.

24:15 - Making the Best Use of Our Time

Matt Tully
How does a verse like that fit with maybe another passage like Ephesians 5:16, which speaks of making the best use of our time. There are other passages that kind of speak to the urgency with which we need to live out our lives as Christians. Is there a tension there that we need to be observing? How would you hold those together?

Mark Vroegop
There certainly is a tension because the Bible calls us to work, but then it also calls us to rest. Or you think in the Old Testament example of manna. Manna had to be collected, but there was only manna for twenty-four hours, right? And so what’s interesting in our human experience, and even in what it means to be a follower of Jesus, is this interplay between work and rest, or between I’ve got to do something and then I have to wait. Think of the farmer, for instance. It’s a great illustration. Even James uses it to talk about the value of patience. He says, “Consider the farmer, brother, who plants, and then has to wait for the latter rains.” The idea is that the farmer works, and then he has to wait. He has to wait patiently, because there’s nothing the farmer can do to make plants grow. And there are so many things in life where that’s 100 percent true. I can do all this stuff, and I’ve got to work. Yes, I’ve got to redeem the time, but the entire redemption of the time is not dependent upon me. And God has space that he works in, and I have to allow him to do his work, lest I think in some way that the redemption of time is entirely up to me. So the farmer plants, and he has to wait, and if you don’t like waiting, you shouldn’t be a farmer. And also, if you don’t like working, you shouldn’t be a farmer. So there has to be both. Sometimes we have to wait because God has ordained our waiting and forced us to wait. And other times, and I think this is really helpful, I need to plan waiting into the equation of my work so that I’m not, in my work, convincing myself that it all depends on me.

Matt Tully
It could be such a hard line to discern even in our own hearts. When we’re faced with a situation where we feel stuck, it’s hard to always know when I should do more. When do I have more work to do to really try to workshop this thing, to figure this out, to problem solve this delay that I’ve come across? It’s those questions vs. When do I need to just step back and allow the Lord to do his thing in his own timing and not feel like it’s all on me? It seems like the line there can be a little bit blurry.

Mark Vroegop
It is. And I think every person has to figure out in every situation how they’re going to work out this work and wait dynamic. One suggestion would be is, and at least my tendency would be that I work, and then when it doesn’t work, I wait. So I work really hard, and then when it’s not working, then I’m dealing with, okay, so now what do I do? I shift my doing from doing, doing to waiting doing. Instead, I would commend doing something like, I’m going to work, and then I’m going to wait. I’m going to work, and then I’m going to wait. I’m going to work, and then I’m going to wait. Because so many people think about waiting as I’m doing nothing. In the Bible waiting is very, very active. It’s very intentional.

Matt Tully
So they’re not two ends of the same spectrum, working and waiting. They actually could go hand in hand.

Mark Vroegop
Exactly. They could go hand in hand. Or think of it as how the psalmist talks about waiting like a watchman for the morning. So think of a watchman. A watchman’s job is to wait. He has a role. He’s very active. He’s waiting.

Matt Tully
He’s paying attention.

Mark Vroegop
Yeah, that’s his job. And so part of it is to think of ourselves not as a victim of waiting, but instead as part of my employment is to be a watchman, and this is my identity. I’m a waiter. I look for God to move, and I invite him into my activity, instead of seeing waiting as a default penalty box because my plan didn’t work. No, waiting needs to be part of the equation of how I’m doing my work.

Matt Tully
And I think that can come as we acknowledge God’s sovereignty over our lives. We can affirm, God, you put me in this season of waiting. You want me in this season of waiting right now. And I think that simple recognition and embrace can make all the difference.

Mark Vroegop
Absolutely. And additionally, to recognize that the tension that comes with waiting is part of the equation. It’s part of the deal. Even one of the Hebrew words that is used in the Bible for waiting has the idea of cords that are twisted. So the idea that tension is a part of what it means to wait. So instead of getting upset or freaking out, like, Oh, I feel so tense! Yeah, you’re waiting. You should feel tense. And if you are feeling tense, welcome to waiting. Just kind of normalizing that, at least in my life, has been super helpful because a lot of times I waste waiting because I don’t like the uncomfortableness that I feel. But if I know, Oh, this is going to be uncomfortable, and I just need to embrace it, it strangely helps for me not to see it as something so negative and to not waste it.

Matt Tully
Mark, thank you so much for helping us to think about our waiting—the waiting that we’re all going to experience in different ways throughout our lives, and encouraging us not to waste that season that God has given to us.

Mark Vroegop
Thank you, Matt. It’s great to be on your podcast today.


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