There I sat, sipping cinnamon-laced foam by myself at the coffee shop, tracing the grooves in the wooden table, gazing out the windows at cloudy skies—and my first instinct was disappointment at a friend’s unexpected interruption to our plans.
But then I sat there with fingers clasped around the warm mug and forced myself to just be still in the midst of my busy weekend. And I realized that this delay was not a surprise to God. It was always a part of his sovereign plan for me. And so I sat there, just thinking, noticing, praying, and asking God what he wanted me to learn from this delay. And not surprisingly, the lesson was linked to delays in life—those which often prove to be far more disappointing.
The sigh of heartache when yet another person’s engagement is announced on social media, and you have not even a prospect at hand. The tears that slip down your face at yet another negative pregnancy test. The exhaustion that comes from stubborn children who don’t seem to make any change from day to day. The frustration over setbacks in schooling, jobs, travel, plans, new opportunities or even personal goals like weight loss or saving money.
We wouldn’t have planned it like that. We would have made it go according to our plans the first time. Yet God is gently turning us away from trusting ourselves to trusting him through these delays. Every delay is a reminder that we are not all-powerful nor do we know what’s best for our lives. Yet God is merciful to teach us that he does know what’s best for our lives—and sometimes that’s a delay.
Sometimes we wouldn’t still our hearts to listen to God if there were no delays.
Sometimes we wouldn’t be reminded of our humanity and our need for God if we didn’t have delays.
Sometimes we would miss hidden beauty and new opportunities if God didn’t withhold what we thought was best for our lives.
Yet he is faithful. And he is sovereign. And his desire is for our hearts to be drawn to his above all else, even more than our plans going perfectly well.
Still the delays feel difficult as we face our natural human desires for things that are good and right. So what do we do as we’re facing delays we didn’t ask for?
First, we sink our souls deeper into relationship with God. He loves to hear the voice of his children. We must learn to cry out to him with every ache and lament, be it small or large. God has slowly been teaching me to retrain my instincts when I’m faced with frustrations or delays, like when I was in the coffeeshop. The first thing I felt was disappointment, but with other things in life, such as singleness or childlessness, there’s a much deeper sadness that wells up from time to time.
I’m learning to allow myself to feel those emotions and then take them immediately to God in prayer. It’s not a “mystical ritual” where one prayer will change my emotions. Rather, it’s going deeper into my relationship with a Savior who cares about all my hurts and sorrows. I tell him how I’m feeling. I cry out to him with the brokenness of the world. And I ask him to help me submit my heart and feelings to his sovereignty—to do a work in me that only he can do.
My feelings might not change right away. But there is the “peace that surpasses all understanding” that comes from knowing I’m not walking through this sadness or disappointment alone. My good Shepherd is with me, and when I acknowledge that, the dark clouds shift a little bit.
Next, we need to see with new eyes the scenery around us. Sometimes this means literally. When waiting for someone at a coffee shop or when the line is too long at the grocery store or when I’m going through a walk in my neighborhood, I’ve had to learn to not distract myself with my phone and instead deeply observe what’s happening around me.
All too often we try to compensate for the delays in our lives through distraction or by making other things happen—when really, God has sometimes provided the delay so that we will notice things we otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. With bigger delays in life, such as with a job or a relationship, God might be asking us to see with new eyes the metaphorical scenery around us. Are we missing opportunities because we’re so focused on what didn’t happen? Are we stubbornly stuck on only one view of fulfillment and robbing ourselves of joy in other things that God has given us? Which leads us to the last step when faced with delays.
Serve right where you are by doing the next thing with faithfulness. I love how Elisabeth Elliot said in one of her books that when faced with loneliness, heartache, or difficult circumstances, we must simply do the next thing. This has helped me time and again when I start fearing that my circumstances might never change. God hasn’t asked me to figure out my whole future; only he knows that. He’s asked me to be faithful to him by doing the next thing right in front of me.
He has called me to valuable and precious tasks right here in this season of life. By delaying other things that I want, he’s carving out time for me to do what’s in front of me. I must lay down my complaining about the delays and take up service to him instead in the here and now. My business isn’t to know all the plans he has for my life. My business is to walk in faithfulness, trusting him with “this gift for this day” (also an Elisabeth Elliot quote).
Is it possible that we trust his sovereignty enough to say, “Lord, I choose to believe that this delay is a mercy from you”? It may not seem like a mercy when our hearts feel like they’re being crushed. Yet God always has a purpose for his designs, even if we can’t see it in the moment. This calls for more faith on our part to believe his promise that he’s working all things together for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).
May he continue to mold our hearts to his in the delays, and may we learn how to accept them with grace more and more every day.