Twenty minutes on ice.
Twenty minutes on my feet.
Then back to the couch and the ice pack — and that was how I made it through the early days of mothering. Degenerative disc disease and pregnancy make for some painful and complicated logistics when they converge, but, oddly, it’s not the pain I remember most. What I remember most clearly is the frustration of being limited and the discipline of resting that was required for healing. The real suffering seemed to be in the waiting.
Anyone with a chronic condition of any type is familiar with the rhythms of hope and despair that go with waiting. Ann Swindell was diagnosed at the age of eleven with trichotillomania, defined by the American Journal of Psychiatry as a “poorly understood disorder characterized by repetitive hair pulling that leads to noticeable hair loss, distress, and social or functional impairment.” It is inexplicable and incurable, and it remains part of Ann’s life as she writes Still Waiting: Hope for When God Doesn’t Give You What You Want.
Ann lays her own story and struggle alongside the biblical account of the Bleeding Woman in Mark 5. Remember the story? After waiting — and bleeding, and consulting experts and spending all her net worth on cures that fell flat — for twelve years, this woman came to Jesus, depleted and out of options. She was miraculously healed, and this is where her story and Ann’s diverge. Nonetheless, Ann feels a special kinship with the Bleeding Woman simply because of the shared brokenness of waiting and of clinging to hope.
Waiting Is Part of the Groaning
Paul’s soaring words about hope and redemption in Romans 8 do not bypass the truth that all of creation deals with brokenness in some way — and, therefore, we wait. And while we wait because of this general and widespread brokenness, it is also true that we are broken because we are waiting. Underneath all the good that was happening in her growing up years and into young adulthood, Ann struggled with the shame and desperation that centered around a pair of hands that would not stop pulling out eyelashes and eyebrows — in spite of resolutions and wearing gloves and goggles and wrapping tape around her fingers.
There’s a misconception in the 21st century church that we can be “#strong” by ourselves, that all weakness is evil, and that healing is God’s will in every situation. It’s a pretty insupportable position in light of Paul’s words in II Corinthians 12:9:
“And [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
When Waiting Is All You Can Do
From experience, Ann offers principles that allow believers to experience the freedom of waiting well:
- Lay down the false notion that you can fix yourself. Waiting well requires a surrender of the illusion of control and self-sufficiency.
- Do not “create your identity around what you don’t have.” Even though it is tempting to fixate on lack, whether it is infertility or singleness or a chronic condition, the believer’s true identity is tied up in Christ who names and claims and loves. Until Ann stopped thinking of herself as damaged goods, she could not share her burden and receive the compassion of others.
- Relinquish what God has withheld. I was so happy to find Elisabeth Elliot’s wisdom shared in the pages of Still Waiting: “. . . the deepest spiritual lessons are not learned by His letting us have our way in the end, but by His making us wait, bearing with us in love and patience until we are able honestly to pray what He taught His disciples to pray: Thy will be done.” (96)
- Allow a soft heart to protect you from bitterness. Making the choice to be offended by God’s sovereign will “puts us in the judgment seat over God.” (105) Ann found that the understanding and kindness of others and the Truth she found in Scripture were key to accepting the will of God in assigning to her this particular trial, this particular chronic condition, this particular set of challenges and temptations to despair.
- Scorn shame. As Jesus took the cross, he silenced shame once and for all. By confiding in a few safe people and by embracing the strong truth of Romans 8:1, Ann began to live in light of God’s love and acceptance even in the midst of the daily struggle.
Standing with Those Who Wait
Whenever authors share a unique journey of living with and overcoming obstacles, readers come away with insights that make us more sensitive to the pain of others as well as helpful ways of responding. One of the chief sources of pain in managing a chronic condition is loneliness. That would have been particularly true of the Bleeding Woman in Scripture, but it is clear from her actions that, somehow, she had managed to keep a shred of hope alive that kept her thinking, “If I can just get close to Jesus . . .” Encouragement to draw near to God will make it easier for those who are waiting to let Him worry about the outcome. Our unconditional acceptance and friendship may be the very thing that makes the presence of God palpable to those who wait.
Those of us who live a following life are characterized by waiting. Although healed spiritually, every believer waits in hope for the gift of full restoration. We serve an “on time God” — not an “on demand God” and our waiting is best managed through a focused attention on the next step of obedience in the present. As we come alongside those who are dealing with a painful and open-ended season of waiting, may we find grace to understand that our waiting cultivates longing for all that God has in store for us. In the meantime, it’s o.k. to keep on asking God for the healing our hearts long for — as we remind one another that God is trustworthy, even when the answer we receive is, “Wait.”
This book was provided by Tyndale Momentum, the nonfiction imprint of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Along with reading Still Waiting, I enjoyed getting to know Ann through listening to a couple of podcasts in which she was interviewed by the host.
On Living a Redeemed Life, Holly Barrett and Ann chatted about her background and writing career. It was a delightful visit!
In Melanie Dale’s podcast, Lighten Up, the conversation centered around Ann’s struggles with trichotillomania and her advice for writers in developing a unique voice.