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One of the unique realities of our modern times is being put on hold. It is essentially just another kind of waiting, but with one key distinction––the time frame of the waiting is indeterminate. As the canned music begins its second cycle, we question whether priority sequence is worth the annoyance and just as we are about to hang up there is a split second of hope as the phone clicks, only to hear “Your call is important to us etc.” and we realize that though someone knows when we will talk to another human, we remain uncertain on our end.

As with everyone else I have both waited and been put on hold, but I have also experienced multiple times before what seems to currently be happening to everyone across the globe––having life put on hold. Whether it was early in my seminary career when I experienced both a perianal abscess and a kidney stone simultaneously, or the following years with six surgeries as a result of my Crohn’s disease, or my recent Type 2 diabetes diagnosis, or most recently last summer when I had mono, pneumonia, gallstones which necessitated the surgical removal of my gallbladder, and a sleep apnea diagnosis simultaneously, I have had some experience with my plans, work and “normal” life grinding quickly to a halt with no timeline for a return readily accessible. The health issues aside, one of the hardest parts is not knowing when things will return to the way they were before, or indeed if they will at all.

So what have I learned through multiple previous times when my life has been put “on hold” that may be of some help to us as we all experience it now collectively? While God has taught me so much through these times, these four things stand out:

Gratitude

While being thankful for an indeterminate wait time seems counterintuitive, I have learned to look back on each of my “on holds” with a grateful heart. While my finite wisdom would have asked for a different method of delivery, I am convinced that my heavenly Father was not only behind the message but the medium as well, and thus I trust that I would not have truly learned everything He was showing me through any other means. Here are three things I have learned (and re-learned) to be grateful for through being put “on hold.”

God is Great.  As I make plans and execute them I can quickly forget that I am not in charge. Nothing breaks through the illusion of control like God stepping in and derailing things––from the fall of man to the cross and the coming consummation of all things, I am increasingly grateful when God shows us what we should have already known: He alone is sovereign.

God is God.  In the middle of delays, it is easy to question God’s benevolence, but I have come (usually after the trial has passed) to see that He loves us enough to bring us to a place where He is all we have so He can remind us that He is all we need. I thank God that He loves me enough to break me of my dependence on anything but Him.

God never gives up on us.  As humbling as it has been to walk through the various illnesses I have experienced, the biggest source of humbling has been the realization that despite the many holds God has placed me on, I still haven’t seemed to learn my lesson. My impatience, anger, and frustration so easily return to the forefront, not buried nearly as deeply as I thought they were, and God gently, graciously, and oh so kindly shows me through my time on hold the many things He is still purging from me. I would have given up on me a long time ago, so I am grateful God loves me all the way to the end.

Confession

While it is certainly not true that every “on hold” experience is a direct result of specific sin in our lives (John 9:2–3), I have found that these times become sweet times of deep confession, though perhaps not immediately. Here are three elements of confession that have been amplified for me during times of indeterminate waiting.

Confession is necessary.  One of the many reasons for our busyness is to distract ourselves from dealing with our own hearts. We feel that if we are serving God then we must be in the right relationship with him, but active service and loving obedience are not the same thing. When life unexpectedly stops for me, as it has done many times, my true attitude quickly bubbles up to the surface, and it is seldom pretty.

Confession is Hard.  Despite being brought face to face with our sinfulness shortly after being put on hold, our ancient defense mechanisms shift into high gear- downplaying, deferring, distancing, and denial. While our time on hold may not lessen should we quickly repent, our time may be extended the longer we refuse to do good introspection.

Confession is Beautiful.  Despite the myriad reasons we produce for self-justification, when we are finally brought to the end of ourselves we always find a beautiful Saviour and Lord, gently using this on hold method to bring us to confess to Him what He already knows and has forgiven us of. Reconciliation with our Father is always sweet.

Prayer

Whether I have been immediately grateful or quickly confessional, my times on hold have produced some of the deepest times of communion with God in my life. The bigness of God and the smallness of me having been brought into sharp relief, I do what we should always be in the habit of doing––fall on my knees (or lay in my hospital bed) and cry out to him.

Peace

As my prayers increase, so does the supernatural peace from the God of peace (Romans 15:33). During my latest round of simultaneous illnesses, I distinctly remember this moment. I was feeling stress on many fronts, from not knowing exactly what I had wrong with me to not knowing how long I would be out, to trying to maintain all my duties while dealing with increasing levels of uncertainty, and I finally cried out to God and gave it all to Him. I knew I couldn’t do it all, and that the stress of trying to was only adding to my pain and struggling, but that moment is so crystal clear when I surrendered and God’s peace came flooding in. From that moment until I gradually returned to my normal ministry life I cannot fully explain how amazing it was to live in the full knowledge that God was in control, He had a plan and a purpose for my suffering, and all of it, including the timing, was in His good and gracious hands.

You may have observed that the four categories of lessons directly correspond to the old acronym for prayer: Praise, Repent, Ask, and Yield, and you would be right. How comforting to know that when we face something “new,” we can always rely on the old. God never changes (Hebrews 13:8), and neither does His word or His means of grace. What can change is the evidence and outworking of these ancient graces in our lives as His Holy Spirit causes us to remember what we have forgotten and embrace what we have rejected.

I don’t know why we are “on hold” right now, and I don’t know how long we will be there. What I have learned (and still need to be reminded of) is that in uncertain times we can trust the One for Whom all things are certain, and that he often brings uncertainty into our lives to teach and re-teach us to do just that.

Right now, we are “on hold”. Let’s not waste this time simply waiting for it to be over (and complaining as long as it’s not) and instead be grateful, confess where needed, pray, and allow God to give us peace as He draws us closer into relationship with him. Maybe that’s one reason why he put us “on hold” in the first place.

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