Skip to main content

When nothing's happening

When nothing's happening "'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring..."

One of my favorite stories is of famished Samaria under siege. "Hear the word of the Lord," Elisha said in 2 Kings 7, "Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria." He was announcing imminent bargain prices on a starvation day when "a donkey's head was sold for eighty shekels of silver" and some dove's dung for five shekels (2 Kings 6:25). Sure. No way.

Who will not pity Saul? Nothing was happening. The brave hero, having waited seven days for Samuel to bless the battle at Gilgal, felt he could wait no more and slew the cultic calf himself. "As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came" (1 Samuel 13:10)-and Israel's first king lost the throne for all generations.

Prince Caspian blows a battle trumpet, and Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are sucked out of a train terminal and back into Narnia where the good dwarf Trumpkin's mission is to bring the four to Caspian's aid. Caspian's entourage has grown faint with waiting, and mutiny is on Nikabrik's tongue: "Whether it was that the Horn was blown too late, or whether there was no magic in it, no help has come. . . . Are you still asking us to hang our hopes on Aslan and King Peter and all the rest of it?" (Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis). "To speak plainly, . . . your wallet's empty, your eggs addled, your fish uncaught, your promises broken."

"The help will come," says Trufflehunter. "I stand by Aslan. Have patience. . . . It may be even now at the door." And so it literally was.

Not possibly knowing of my own temptation, the Nigerian student Philip came to the café with a most unlikely gift: a postcard, which is to this day taped to the backsplash of the kitchen among wrap and rice recipes. It is inscribed with only this: "I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord" (Psalm 27:13-14).

A widow's lament: The first singleness is anticipatory, the second a shoreless wasteland. The first is morning sun, the second a dreary thrumming of fingers on the windowsill at dusk, a mourning like Jephthah's daughter's. I go to work, I make sandwiches, I do laundry, tomorrow will be the same. "It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping His charge?" (Malachi 3:14).

The big danger when nothing is happening is to make something happen. That's the last thing you want to do, brothers. Here is the scenario: The marriage is going nowhere, so he gets a little action on the side, and she becomes a devotee of Desperate Housewives. It creates an interest, the illusion of a fuller life. It escapes that most intolerable of all intolerable feelings-the aching void of "nothing happening."

But do they not err? "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth" (2 Chronicles 16:9). He is looking for those who have an appetite for waiting-when there is no sign of flour and barley for the morrow, when it appears that Samuel will not show. The devil himself knows these are the times he must fear. "It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that [the human] is growing into the sort of creature he wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please him best" (The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis).

Our God is a surprising God. He "calls into existence the things that do not exist" (Romans 4:17). What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9). Do not run ahead, my soul, but wait for the Lord. It is a good thing to wait upon Him in a well-watered land. It is a fabulous thing to wait upon Him in a barren landscape. And He may even now be, as in Caspian's case, at the very door.