The wilderness of waiting… Have you ever experienced that kind of wilderness? A place that is both wild and barren, a place far from home, a place where you learn a lot about yourself, but don’t quite feel settled, you don’t quite feel complete?
In his letter to the Romans, Paul is writing to friends who are in a wilderness time. They are a minority group in Rome. They’re experiencing persecution. They’re disconnected from other communities of believers. No doubt they’re learning a lot about themselves in their wilderness experience, no doubt their faith is growing, but there is a strong sense that they are not yet who they will become. They hope for a day when they will breathe freely, when they will be free. And, as with all people who wait for something better, the Roman believers need encouragement…which is why Paul sends this letter.
The great thing about Paul’s letters is that, while they were sent to particular communities dealing with specific issues, he speaks about those issues in ways that resonate with anyone on a faith journey. We might not be experiencing the kind of persecution those first century believers in Rome were experiencing, but I’m guessing that every one of us here knows something about not feeling completely whole in our faith journeys. I imagine that very few of us feel like we’ve arrived at our spiritual destination. Which of us every moment of every day feels as close to God as we possibly can get?
Every week at Pilgrimage, we say the familiar words—say them with me: “One fact remains that does not change, God has loved you, loves you now, and will always love you. This is the good news that brings us new life.” We all know that right? We all know that God loves us. But feeling that love? That’s a different thing completely. Knowing that God loves us and really feeling loved by God…two very different journeys. One of the journeys happens in our head, our intellect, in the abstract. The other happens in the real world, in the context of the material things around us, in our own flesh and blood.
As Paul is trying to describe this gap between the relationship with God we do have and the relationship with God for which we hope, it makes sense that he seizes on the image of adoption. Whatever else you might think of the Apostle Paul, he was a brilliant theologian. His arguments are complex; his images sometimes startling in their accuracy. This idea of “groaning as we wait for adoption” is one of them. Considering how lost we sometimes feel, how much we long to feel connected to something larger than ourselves, how desperately we want to feel—really feel—like children of God, Paul seized on the deepest longing known to human beings, the longing to belong.
Wanting to get some sense of the experience of waiting for adoption, I sent a request to several people in our congregation who know something about the adoption process. It’s interesting that each of the four families who responded is at a different stage in the process. Susan Dempsey and Becky Nelson are several years beyond the adoption of their girls. The adoption process for Brendan Ashton, Kristi and Angie’s son, was just completed this summer. Next Sunday, Matthew Kozak Gula will be baptized. The following Wednesday, his adoption will be complete. And Wayne and Stephen have been actively waiting to adopt for a year and a half now. Four different families; four different perspectives from which to view the process of waiting for adoption.
While their places in the waiting process are different, in all the stories, the waiting itself is similar. It involves profound longing, a feeling of incompleteness, a fierce love for something one doesn’t yet have, a deep desire to belong. In Romans, Paul says this: “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” There is perhaps no other population in the world who understands hope better than those who are waiting for adoption.
Because each of the stories is beautiful and important, I wanted you to have copies of them. I invite you to take them and read them at your leisure. Right now, I’d like to read from two of those stories.
First, on the “groaning” that attends waiting for adoption, Angela Gula wrote: “These words couldn’t be any truer for Michelle and me. Even before Matthew’s birth we waited, anticipating the day that we would legally be recognized as a family. We always knew it would be a challenging process….we knew it would take time…there was plenty of groaning, some frustration and even some tears shed. What we didn’t know was just how anxious we’d get as the day approached. Here we are now, just 10 days from the final hearing and we continue to groan inwardly while we wait for adoption.”
Paul was a master wordsmith. There comes a point in his writing, though, where he recognizes that much of the faith journey, much of human experience happens far deeper than words can go. How often can you say, “I really want to have a child!” Or, “I really want to feel like God’s child,” before the words feel superficial, old, small? There comes a point when words just don’t communicate the fullness of the meaning any more. At those moments–moments when we long for something so desperately there are no words left–groaning can help….even when there are only 10 days left before the adoption happens.
Everyone who has awaited adoption understands something of the pain of the waiting process, of the need for patience. At this point, in our community, the people who are best acquainted with this particular pain are Wayne and Steve. As you’ll read, the first part of the adoption process went quickly for them….mostly because they had control over the process. They filled out paperwork, went to state-mandated classes, completed a home study.
Then came the real waiting process, the time when they wait to be matched with a child or children. Here’s how they talk about the process of waiting. “Needless to say, here we are over a year later and we are still in the matching process. We keep telling ourselves that the right child will come into our lives at the right time for the right reasons, but sometimes that just doesn’t feel like enough when you have spent so much time preparing your heart for a child of your own. We continue to pray for patience and guidance as we wait for parenthood.”
Wayne and Steve’s story ends with prayer, a prayer for patience. Paul ends his discussion of waiting for adoption–waiting to feel, really feel, at one with God–with prayer, too. These are some of the best words about prayer in all of Scripture. He writes: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. Don’t you love that? We get to the place where we don’t know what to say, where the feelings go deeper than words can reach, where all we can do is groan….and somehow the Spirit understands our groaning, then translates it into the language of sighs and communicates it to God? We groan, the Spirit sighs, and God still gets the message. Isn’t that great?
Are you waiting for adoption this morning? Not so much the kind that Wayne and Steve, Angela and Michelle, and many children in the foster care system are waiting for…are you waiting for adoption by God? Are you waiting to feel, really feel, like you belong to God’s family? Are you ready to get through all the words, all the forms, all the superficialities to the material reality of actually living with God? Are you ready to emerge from the wilderness and find your way home?
Today’s sermon ends with a time of prayer. In this time of prayer, I encourage you to refrain from words. Simply be in the presence of God. Communicate this morning in the language of sighs, or groans, if you need to. The invitation is to cut through all the superficialities and get to the heart of what you’re feeling in your heart…because God wants to know what’s going on there…and whatever you express to God from that deep, wordless place, God will understand. God will understand. Let us join our hearts together in prayer. [Two minutes]
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2011
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.