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I wish I were good at waiting. I’ve sure had lots of practice—15 years of infertility, six years of a chronic pain condition, five years in the adoption process. Yet even with all that experience, I still chafe at how slowly the Lord seems to act when I’m praying for a season to end. I’ve rarely viewed waiting as anything but a prison. For most of the years, I just wanted out.

We all grapple with unfulfilled desires. Marriage, children, financial stability, physical health—insert your deferred hope here. We long for broken things to be mended, empty things to be filled, tragic things to end. So when we plead with the Lord to change things, but we keep waking to unchanged circumstances, we want to know why. And if we could have a definitive timeframe for those changes—even better!

But the Bible doesn’t guarantee our deferred hopes will be met with our desired outcomes. Believe me, I’ve looked. I spent years combing God’s Word for a special word that would speak to my empty womb or my broken body. I’ve longed to know when my waiting will end, and I’ve wondered why God ordained this path for me. When and why are the questions we ask God the most, but as I worked through Scripture looking for the answers, I discovered I was asking the wrong questions.

‘Why?’ and ‘When?’ Won’t Satisfy

When we can’t change our circumstances, we’re quick to question why God has let this happen or why he won’t change it. Consider Job, who had no inkling of the conversation between God and Satan in Job 1–2. As we read the whole story, we can see purpose in Job’s suffering and understand that God was revealing and refining Job’s faith. But for Job, it seemed arbitrary.

He longed to know why God had permitted so much sorrow in his life, and he had to endure lecture after lecture from his friends. In the end, God answered Job’s why with a who—not with a reason, but with a person. Himself.

In the end, God answered Job’s why? with a who—not with a reason, but with a person. Himself.

When God cuts into the conversation about whether Job’s suffering was deserved, he simply describes his mighty acts and unassailable sovereignty. Instead of knowing why he must wait, Job needed to grasp who God was. And remembering that his life was in the hands of his Creator sustained Job. After hearing God’s self-declaration, Job came to this conclusion: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. . . . Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:2–3).

The Lord doesn’t fault Job for asking his questions (see Job 42:7), but in his answer to Job, he never explains “why.” The truth of God’s sovereign wisdom was the answer Job needed, and it was the answer that satisfied him even though he had no explanation for his losses. Job learned he could trust God with his life.

If we can’t know the why of our waiting, we often move to when. We long to know that our waiting has a guaranteed expiration date. We can endure, we believe, if we just know when it will end.

The short answer is that there is a guaranteed end to our waiting or suffering, but it’s not for us to know when that day will be (Rev. 7:15–17; Matt. 24:36). One day, God will right all wrongs, bringing complete healing and restoration to our bodies and relationships. But eternity can feel like such a long way away, when we’re waiting today for a spouse, a child, a diagnosis or treatment, or a way to pay our bills. Perseverance only seems doable if we know how long we’ll need to exercise it.

But even if we had a date on the calendar, we’d still find a way to worry about it or try to speed things along. Waiting like that doesn’t cultivate trust in the God who cares for us and has ordered our steps. If we hinge our trust in God to a certain, earthly timeline, we’re not really trusting him. We’re trusting in our schedule.

‘Who?’ Will Satisfy

After a decade of waiting, I finally quit asking when and why as I opened my Bible each day. I couldn’t bend the Scriptures to say something God hadn’t said, and I was weary of trying.

Instead, I began asking, “Who are you, God?” Over the next two years (while still waiting for my circumstances to change), I wrote down all the things I learned about God from Scripture each day. Stacks of spiral notebooks piled up, each page filled with notes about his character, kindness, love, mercy, grace. I’d known these facts in my head, but now I saw them revealed every day. In pain and grief—and in joy and laughter—I learned that he is holy, just, wise, sovereign, faithful, and present.

If we hinge our trust in God to a certain, earthly timeline, we’re not really trusting him. We’re trusting in our schedule.

Learning about God’s character taught me to trust him, to wait with peace because he has proven himself faithful time and again. He sent Jesus to meet my greatest need in paying for my sins at the cross. Such a gracious and kind God can be trusted with my waiting for other, lesser needs. As Paul encourages us: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).

As we wait with deferred hopes, may we find comfort in God’s unchanging character, knowing that our ultimate hope is anchored in him.