Have you ever grown impatient with God? Have you wondered why Jesus is taking so long in returning? Nowhere do we feel a greater sense of impatience than when we are burying someone we love. Staring down at the body in the casket we know instinctively (even those who don’t believe in God yet know) that this isn’t right. This is not how the world was meant to be. It’s not fair.
As followers of Jesus we have been given an incredible promise. We know that there will be a great resurrection to come. When the final trumpet sounds, Jesus will come again and the dead in Christ will rise first. But until that day we wait and wonder, “God, what’s taking so long.” Below is a story I stumbled upon written by a fellow pastor, Tony Pittenger. This story beautifully captures the tension between God’s promises and our wait until those promises are fulfilled. As Jesus would say, “The Kingdom of heaven is like this…”
Dad had told her about it many times. It sounded wonderful; a nearby park, a lovely little bay ringed by a lush forest. Ducks with jewel colored splashes on their wings bobbed in the water while eagles kept watch high above. The woods were lush, cool, and dark even on the hottest days. The beach would be warm in the full sun.
All her life Mara had heard of this place and had longed to see it herself. She could picture the floating dock, her toes swishing in the water while minnows darted this way and that. Dad said she might see a bald eagle fishing, said he’d teach her how to skip rocks.
As they pulled into the parking space her eyes sparkled for all her father had promised of this place, her little feet could not hold still.
“Is it down there Daddy?”
“Right there.” She jumped out and ran towards the beach.
Her run slowed to a walk then stopped altogether. Staring in disbelief she asked, “Daddy, what’s wrong with it?”
“What do you mean?”
“The sand and shells and skipping rocks are way up here but the water is way down there.”
“The tide is out dear. It will be OK, I promise; it will be exactly as I told you. Just wait.” The sparkle came back into her eyes. Daddy had never lied to her. “Let’s explore the woods first.”
The woods were fun. They were a million different shades of green. Mara learned about sword ferns and cedar and fir trees. She saw every size of pine cone imaginable. Dad showed her how to look for salamanders and taught her the importance of slugs. They saw grey squirrels and red squirrels. They even heard sea lions barking across the water.
But it wasn’t the beach she had wanted to see, and there were lots of hills too. It was muddy in some spots and when she ran off the trail to find her own ferns, her leg brushed against nettles and now she itched terribly.
“Let’s go to the beach. We’ll find a warm spot to rest in and see what we’ve brought for snacks.” Mara agreed, after all the beach was the thing she most wanted to see. To the beach they went. But when they arrived it seemed that not much had changed. The water had hardly come up at all. Dad said they still needed to wait so they sat on a piece of driftwood.
Waiting is hard for little girls but she was determined to do it. She sat and sat, she shifted her position, and she rolled onto her stomach so that she was draped over the log.
After what seemed to be a longest wait of her life, at least five minutes, she asked again. “When Daddy?”
“Just wait Dear. I promise. It will be everything I’ve told you and more.”
Silence. Feet push sand into little plies. Mara sighs.
Mara sighs louder…
“Daddy, why’s that sand look all gross?”
“Because it’s not sand. It’s mud.”
“Can I go see it?”
“You can, but your shoes will get dirty, probably even stuck.”
“No they won’t,” Mara called over her shoulder as she headed down.
Yes, they did. The black muck sucked one shoe completely off. Her sock was filled with it. When Dad got her back to their seat her feet and legs were filthy. “Here, let’s get you cleaned up and then how about that snack?” said Dad as he opened his backpack.
“Daddy, this isn’t anything like you promised. You didn’t tell me about the nettles and you didn’t tell me about the hills and you didn’t tell me about this muddy beach and how far away the water would be. This isn’t any fun at all.”
“It will be, Dear. It will be.”
Mara tried to sit quietly, tried to believe Dad, but as the day got hotter an awful odor invaded her nostrils. “What is that smell?” she asked.
“That’s the seaweed. When the tide is out all that seaweed decomposes, or rots, while it lays on the mud.”
“Why? It stinks.”
“Well, that’s how many of the tiniest creatures get their food. This is just how it works.”
“Pew!” stated Mara authoritatively. She had decided she did not like it. Her decision was final.
Five more minutes passed. Dad sat smiling. Mara rolled her eyes.
“This is so boring! Can we go? The dock isn’t even floating, it’s just sitting in that stinky mud.”
“Here Honey, have some juice,” answered Dad.
This back-and-forth went on for some time; Mara always questioning, struggling, even despairing as much as a little girl can despair. Finally, worn out from the day’s activities and from her own anxiety, she said, “Daddy, I’m getting sleepy.”
“I thought you might. I’ve brought our picnic blanket. Here, just lie down and close your eyes. I’ll keep watch and wake you when it’s time.” Mara laid her head on the blanket. As she closed her eyes a tear trickled down her cheek. It had been a hard morning for her. She had been so excited about all of Dad’s promises, but this wasn’t anything like what he had said. This was all wrong. She was confused and even a little angry.
While she slept Dad made sure she stayed in his shadow to keep her out of the noonday sun. Now a very long time passed. Mara lay still and slept for three hours (almost eternity to one as little as her). Finally Dad woke her. “Mara Joy? Mara Joy, wake up. It’s time.”
“Mara Joy!” He only used her middle name when it was very very important. Her eyes popped open. Refreshed from her sleep, she looked around her. The mud and seaweed and smell, even the itchy bumps from the nettles, they were all gone. Blue-winged teal bobbed on a sparkling bay. A seal poked his head up inquisitively. An eagle kept watch on the tallest fir.
The blue sky! The green trees! The cool clear water! It was all better than she imagined.
“This, Mara Joy, is called ‘high tide’. This is what I promised you. Let’s go explore.”
1 Corinthians 15:52–57
The trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.