My children love books by author/illustrator Mo Willems—especially those from his Elephant and Piggie series. In them, an odd-couple pair of pals learn about friendship through zany situations. One of our favorites is “Waiting Is Not Easy!” (note the exclamation point). The plot revolves around Piggie promising a surprise to Gerald, the elephant, who wants it right away. As Piggie insists on patience and Gerald resists, the blank page backgrounds grow darker until the end of the book, when hundreds of stars illuminate the evening sky. In awe, Gerald looks up and says, “This was worth the wait.”
Each time I read this to them, I hope a seed is planted to help them learn patience. Rarely, though, do I think about my own inclination toward impatience—especially when I’m waiting on the Lord to answer prayer. I can honestly look back at times when, in a dispute or wrestling with anxiety, I’ve been desperate for God to move, and He always has answered—in His own timing. But even those testaments to God’s lovingkindness in my own life don’t make waiting any easier the next time.
In his book Waiting on God, Charles F. Stanley writes, “Nothing teaches us so effectively as a prolonged difficulty. Unable to handle it on our own, we turn to [the Lord] out of desperation and ultimately realize how truly loving, wise, and good He really is.”
When I read the phrase “a prolonged difficulty,” my mind immediately went to some friends facing a trial that no parent should ever face—a child’s serious diagnosis. In October 2019, Matt and Amanda Nelson’s daughter Wilhelmina broke her leg on the school playground. A scan revealed the weak spot came from a tumor: osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer.
The Nelsons went into a tailspin. Surgeons removed the tumor and tried to save Wilhelmina’s leg through painful surgeries. The family waited with patience, hoping for a good outcome, but the operations were unsuccessful, eventually necessitating an amputation. Then began the long journey of chemotherapy. Amanda would leave the rest of the family behind during Wilhelmina’s many lengthy hospital stays. At home, Matthew was doing everything he could to keep spirits up with their sons, but they struggled with fears for their sister.
There have been times when I’ve been desperate for God to move, and He always has answered—in His own timing. But even those testaments to God’s lovingkindness don’t make waiting easier the next time.
The situation put them into a state of constant exhaustion, month upon month. Waiting for scan results or scrounging for patience in the next round of treatment made for a season of relentless challenge. And yet their faith in the Lord only deepened. It’s tempting for us as creatures—Christian or not—to fault God when tragedy strikes. But there’s something about the way the Nelsons have carried themselves, the way they openly revealed their reliance on the Lord, that spoke to me. To them, there was no other option than to trust in God’s ability to move on their behalf—in other words, to wait on the Lord. They constantly sought prayer and knew that, even with advances in modern medicine, they needed Jesus to heal their little girl.
In the passage from Waiting on God, Dr. Stanley continues:
Dear friend, are you unsure of your way? Do you have needs only He can provide? Is your path blocked on every side? Do you wonder if God has forgotten you? The nevers of life can discourage you and rend your heart if you don’t focus on the One who ultimately holds your future in His hands.
It’s words like these that I need to hear, a reminder that regardless of what happens to me, my family, or our dear friends, the Lord holds everything in His hands. In desperation we can call on His name and know He hears the prayers of His people.
Over the course of many months, Wilhelmina received a total of 32 chemotherapy treatments. She became a familiar face at the children’s hospital. Nearly a year after the tumor was discovered, her first post-chemo scan came back negative. She’s cancer-free.
I rejoice with my friends, who’ve lived for such a long period of time in complete uncertainty. I’m deeply encouraged by their trust in the Lord through it all, which wouldn’t have changed even if they’d received a bad report. They have shown me what it looks like to wait well. I hope and pray that in my own challenges, I can look back and say, “This was worth the wait.”
Illustration by Adam Cruft