Through her own story of loss and that of Mary and Martha in John chapter 11, author Pamela Havey Lau encourages us to truly believe that our Lord feels our pain deeply and waits faithfully for us, and with us


If there is one central factor common to all walks of faith it is that of ‘waiting’. The psalmist speaks of waiting for God (Psalm 37) as do the writers of Isaiah (30:18) and Lamentations (3:24), giving us hope, courage and expectation in our own waiting. In our world, where anxiety has become a dominant emotion no matter our faith practices, followers of Jesus proclaim the kingdom of God is here now and Jesus is making all things new. How can something we know is true calm our anxious hearts just a few short years following a global pandemic? We wonder what God is doing and, if we’re really honest, what he’s waiting for.  

Waiting for restoration

Just a few months ago, Christians around the world were ‘waiting’ in Advent. In spite of record numbers of mental health cases rising, a struggling economy, a controversial war and conflict in public discourse, Christmas came. We prepared for Advent with the singing of songs such as ‘Come thou long expected Jesus’. Waiting in Advent feels anticipatory, as it’s a hope for all the nations. After all, Advent means the arrival of a notable person.  

In Advent, we prepare ourselves for birth. In Lent we prepare our hearts for death, but a death that leads to life. In the 40 days of Lent, we align ourselves with Christ’s suffering and death by fasting from what clings to us and praying to Jesus, our brother and friend. Waiting in Lent is a death to self 1,000 times a day knowing Jesus brings rebirth. Lent is waiting for the experience of a restored life. 

In both Advent and Lent we wait. We prepare. We have expectations. But what does waiting look like in the aftermath of health issues from the pandemic? Or when the sufferings of our brothers and sisters around the world are magnified and intensely exposed? What is this cultural moment helping us see?

Knowing ourselves as we wait

Waiting is hard for us anytime and especially now with so much loss and uncertainty. Two sisters from scripture understand this so well. John 11 tells a story toward the end of Jesus’ public ministry. Receiving their request, Jesus walked back to the home of his close friends, Martha and Mary, in Bethany. He arrived to hear the sounds of grief, and see hundreds of mourning Jews. His beloved friend, Lazarus, had died. The waiting time between when Lazarus died and Jesus arrived produced anger, frustration, anxiety and insolence from two women he loved deeply. Martha expressed emotions that upended her: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v21). She spoke to Jesus freely, knowing how he loved them as a family.

Immediately after Martha was honest with Jesus, he said: “Your brother will rise again!” (v23). Martha recognised that she did believe what Jesus would do in the future (v24), and yet knowing this didn’t make her pain any less. 

I understand.  

While waiting we discover surprising emotions we don’t normally attribute to God

Recently, I honoured my mother’s life by visiting her graveside for the first time in Asheville, North Carolina. My childhood best friend and my youngest daughter accompanied me. It was a sunny afternoon as the three of us sat by the tombstone bearing my mom’s name. After I was left alone to pray and say goodbye to my mom, I felt a surprising emotion rise up within me. Where I expected closure, I felt anger, disappointment and resentment. I was confused. I asked God what was going on. Sometimes when I recognise the narrative behind the thoughts – in this instance God wanting me to release the circumstances surrounding my mother’s death – it can leave me anxious, hurt and wanting to believe differently. Knowing ourselves, and reflecting upon what we believe while we wait, can allow our truest emotions to surface.  


Experiencing God while we wait

The American writer Madeleine L’Engle once wrote that: “Truth often comes by revelation when we least expect it.” I wonder if Martha wasn’t expecting Jesus to be fully present to her anxiety? The truth of what Jesus was waiting for becomes clear. I wonder: did Martha want Jesus to do something for her when Jesus wanted to know if his presence was all she needed? Isn’t this the fulfilment of Easter in the midst of Lent? God comes to us, understands our anxiety, deep pain, confusion and loss and doesn’t scold us. 

The day I felt my own anger and confusion well up within me at my mother’s graveside surprised me. I waited for time alone when I could open my heart in prayer, even though I didn’t understand. I found myself trying to reason away the feelings because I believed God had already healed my heart. 

When Jesus graces us with his truth-telling self, revealing to us more of what we believe about him, we have the invitation to confess our attachment to a belief system or doctrine. Jesus gazes lovingly at Martha – and us – and says: “I am the resurrection and the life…Do you believe this?” (vv25–26). Martha experienced God in her waiting by finding out his presence was immediate. Jesus moved resurrection out of a concept and into a person, and out of the future and into the present. It’s impossible for us to identify with Jesus during Lent without abiding with him.  

As the story unfolds, we discover that it was not until Martha’s sister Mary opened herself up to Jesus with her own bewilderment and pain that we get a glimpse of God’s surprising emotions. Worshipping at his feet, Mary cried to Jesus in front of a massive crowd of mourners. As the funeral crowd looked on, the master of life and death cared deeply – and it showed.

Deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled, Jesus wept (v35). The Greek word here tells us he experienced profound sorrow and grief at his beloved friend’s death, but there’s something more. Jesus felt indignation, anger at the final enemy and perhaps at the unbelief of those who knew him. Experiencing God while we wait brings a renewed understanding of how he cares for us in our world. Jesus not only graces us with his truth-telling self but infuses us with his truth-knowing Spirit. While waiting we discover surprising emotions we don’t normally attribute to God.

How, then, do we wait in these suffering times? We remember God is also waiting for us. 

God waiting for us

Days after I visited my mother’s graveside, I was sitting at my computer working on a project when the stealthy Spirit of God spoke to my heart: “Pam, the anger and feelings of disappointment you felt days ago were mine. I saw how everything happened. I saw the struggles, the suffering. I wanted you to know I felt indignant and sad too.” The timing of the message calmed my anxiety and pain, but that timing wasn’t mine. Jesus waited for me. 

Lent is a time of waiting; it’s a time of waiting for Easter. We aren’t just waiting for God to act, but we are waiting with God.

How we wait is what speaks to our anxiety, anger and frustration throughout our lives, but especially now in the face of worldwide uncertainty and rumours of more war. No matter how we are praying for the Church, our nation to heal or for God to intervene, this Lent season invites us to ponder profound truths about our Lord Jesus Christ: he is the resurrection; he is the life. And he is deeply moved by our suffering. He is the God who waits for us to know him more.

Pamela Havey Lau is a professor, family law mediator and author of Soul Strength and A Friend in Me. You can hear Pam’s podcast ‘Real Life with Pamela Lau’ on iTunes. Find out more at: Insta: pamelahaveylau