Here I am, Lord. by Mark Bradford
I’ve just come back from lunch out with my wife, Sarah. We were hoping to grab a quick bite together after busy mornings and full afternoons to come. It was a beautiful sunny September day and a joy to be sat outside. After a bit of a wait, our order was taken. A quarter of an hour later, our drinks arrived. We supped them in the sun, enjoying conversation together. However, forty-five minutes after ordering, there was still no sign of our food. Should we wait some more, or awkwardly enquire where it was? We did a bit of both. ‘They’ll be here in three minutes’, we were told. Another fifteen minutes passes and it crosses our minds to cut our losses and head home. The food eventually comes and is delicious – but the wait has been frustrating.
A trivial example of a far deeper, more painful, problem in life – those times and seasons of interminable waiting.
These are the cries of many a human heart in turmoil. The first speaks of the incomprehension of hurt and suffering; of something that takes place without any apparent reason. The second vocalises an enduring sense of agony and affliction. This isn’t a one-off event, as painful as that would be, but a situation that is dragging on without end, closure or resolution. Such cries are the natural exclamation of the human heart. They are precognitive and have to be uttered and exclaimed. They are the overflow of sentiments that can no longer be held within. Sometimes they have no clear direction – they are simply sent out into the ether – while at other times, they are directed towards a specific target. This may be a person or group, who are perceived as the source of what has gone wrong, or perhaps the community around, that they might shed some light on what is taking place. Ultimately, these cries are directed to God, and this is where they feel their greatest tension.
If God is so powerful and almighty, and also so loving and compassionate, then why do these things happen? Why are they permitted to endure? The world is in motion around us, yet we are stuck at a red light, unmoving. Everyone else in the waiting room has been seen by the physician, but no one is calling our name and we’re unsure when, or even if, we’ll ever be attended to. It’s what Paul Scanlon, in his powerful sermon on the topic, calls the ‘agony of divine delay’.
Everyone’s experiences of the covid pandemic over the past 18 months have been different. However, we have all known something of the pain of waiting.
Waiting to see loved ones again after a long separation from friends and family…
Waiting to be able to explore again those favourite places further from home.
Waiting to be able to sing God’s praise together in congregational worship.
The ‘time of waiting’ is one of the metaphors I explore in The Space Between: The disruptive seasons we want to hide from, and why we need them. The book seeks to spotlight those disruptive, or ‘liminal’, moments in our lives, where something comes to an end – the loss of a role, a place, or a loved one, for example. The true pain of such moments, however, is not just the ending, but also that we are yet to experience anything like a newness of life, to replace all that has been relinquished. We are ‘stuck’, therefore, in a void; in a ‘space between’ – caught between loss and life; between crucifixion and resurrection.
Times of waiting – ‘spaces between’ – are always full of pain. Yet, at the same time, they are also locations of great opportunity and even overwhelming hope, for in them we stand on the threshold of something altogether new. Vitally, disruption creates a unique space for reimagination. The emptiness of the space between offers a whole new perspective from which to glimpse life, both as it was before and as it might be in the future.
As we emerge from this disruptive season, how do we discern the way forward in our various ministries and callings? We all face deep questions about what God is calling us to in the coming days. What do we need to pick up again? What do we need to let go? What does God want of us as we step out into the world again? Explore 1 Samuel 3, with plenty of space for worship, reflection and practical wisdom and reflect on God’s calling for our lives.
Why not join us as we wait on the Lord, and say to him, ‘Here I am’.
Mark Bradford is vicar of St Cuthbert’s Fulwood. Previously he taught history and politics and has worked for the Oasis Trust in Leeds training and discipling 18–25-year-olds. He is married with three young children.