(Read Psalm 13 and Mark 5:25-34)
The common theme in today’s Scripture readings is waiting. In Psalm 13, David cries out over and over again, “How long, O Lord? How long must I wait for you to take away the pain in my soul? How long must I wait for you to take away the sorrow in my heart?” I suspect the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years also cried out to God, “How long, O Lord? How long must I go on suffering before you will heal me?”
Waiting for God tests the soul, but it is a universal experience of the faithful. Most likely, we will wait for God to answer us many times throughout our lives. Like the woman in Mark 5, we wait for God to heal us of our infirmity and disease. Like the psalmist, we wait for God to heal our broken hearts and anguished souls. We wait for God to mend broken relationships and ignite new relationships. We wait for God to enter into our earthly situations and alter them so that we have more happiness and peace. We wait for God to rescue us from our trials and tribulations. We wait for God to save us from ourselves. You might consider: what are you waiting for God to do in your life?
St. Augustine (354-430), who is arguably the most influential Christian theologian in the history of Western Christianity, writing over 400 letters, books, and sermons, and serving as a Bishop in an influential part of northern Africa during early Christiandom was waiting for God to change his heart. Before he became a great spiritual leader,
when Augustine was a young man, he was a very successful orator, and he loved the praise and admiration he received from the people. He also loved women and caroused in many illicit affairs.
God’s Spirit was at work in him though because on the one hand, Augustine loved women and praise and debauchery, and on the other hand, he did not feel good about his behavior and he wanted to make God the priority in his life. He wanted to grow in virtue and holiness. He wrote, “My inner self was a house divided against itself.” He went back and forth between, what he called his lower instincts, his attachments to worldly values and unhealthy habits, and his higher instincts, which were to give his heart and life over in the service of God. One of his most famous lines is, “Lord, give me chastity but not yet.”
For years this battle raged within him. He wanted change but he couldn’t do it himself. So, he waited and waited, and prayed and prayed, until one day—the slow work of God brought Augustine to the point where he was ready. In a pivotal moment, Augustine called upon the Lord. In his infamous, spiritual autobiography he wrote, “For I felt that I was still the captive of my sins, and in misery I kept crying, ‘How long shall I go on saying, ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow’? Why not now? Why not make an end of my ugly sins at this moment?”
Augustine wept, and then suddenly, after years of prayer and searching and self-examination, God came to him in a very real and clear way. Augustine heard a voice saying repeatedly, “Take it and read, take it and read.” Augustine could have ignored the voice, but in that moment, he decided the voice must be a divine command to open up the book of Scripture and read the first passage on which his eyes should fall. He opened the book up to Romans, and the first passage he saw said, “Not in reveling and drunkennes, not in lust and wantonness, not in quarrels and rivalries. Rather, arm yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ; spend no more thought on nature and nature’s appetites.”
The Living Word came to Augustine just as he needed it to, and in that decisive moment, the transforming power of God entered in. Augustine wrote, “I had no wish to read more and no need to do so. For in an instant, as I came to the end of the sentence, it was as though the light of confidence flooded my heart and all the darkness of doubt was dispelled.” He said to Jesus, “You converted me to yourself, so that I no longer placed any hope in this world but stood firmly upon the rule of faith.”
Ah, what a life-transforming moment, a moment we all wait for. Whether it is our hearts or our wills, our bodies or our souls, our relationships or our life circumstances, we all wait for a moment like this one when God moves powerfully and affectively in our lives. Like Augustine, we wait for God, and like Augustine, God will answer our cries, our prayers.
If you are in a time of waiting, then trust and strength are the spiritual resources you need to endure. Trust will prevent your from growing morose, feeling defeated, feeling like God has abandoned you. The Lord will come through for you. “Thus says the Lord: Blessed are those who trust in the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes and its leaves shall stay green. In the year of drought it is not anxious and it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jer. 17:7-8). When you trust in God, you can go through dry periods and be okay.
Strength will help you confront and go through whatever it is you need to go through until your situation is resolved. This morning, as you partake of the bread and the wine, remember that Jesus Christ is mysteriously present in these elements, and that he is your strength and nourishment throughout your journey.
There is a poem by a famous Jesuit monk named Pierre Teilhard De Chardin that commends us to trust as we wait for God’s wisdom and power to transform, heal and redeem our lives. It reads:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
That it is made by passing though
Some stages of instability
And that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you:
Your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
Let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
As though you could be today what time
Will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
Gradually forming within you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you,
And accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
The last thing I’d like to say is that, eventually, the waiting will come to an end. One day, God did answer David. David testified by saying, “I will sing to the Lord, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with me” (Psalm 13:6). One day, God did heal the woman who bled for 12 years. Jesus said, “Go in peace. Your faith has made you well.” One day, God did transform Augustine from the inside out. And one day, maybe even today, God will redeem you in the way you need to be redeemed. Trust in the Lord for he is our salvation!