Christianity Faith Spirituality Spirituality in the Ordinary Suffering

On Waiting Anxiously

No matter how bad the future might be, the exact second now is OK.

This has been my watchword for a number of years, but especially this week. I will spare you the details, but it has been a pretty stressful week chez Pate, waiting to hear whether I got a temporary developer job with a government department. It is looking promising, but I can’t just relax and enjoy it – I can’t seem to believe in good news until it is absolutely confirmed.

It’s quite an interesting experience, in a painful way. Why do I feel so much more stressed now that there is the possibility of good news than I did before, when there was very little on the horizon? Perhaps it is tribute to the importance of denial that I am able to operate under such a lot of stress. I build a sort of barrier between myself and the reality of the situation, and it is only when good news threatens to appear that I can allow myself to feel what I am really feeling, because it is absolutely crippling.

Normally, as well as my innate level of denial, I have my coping mechanisms: I know Mondays are tough – I feel a lot more unemployed (and indeed unemployable) on Mondays, when everyone else is heading off to work, so I create work-like tasks for myself – like this blog. I schedule my long runs for the afternoon, when my mood is at its lowest – 13.9 km today.

As the morning drags on, the morning which I told myself not to expect my agent to call during, given the inefficiencies of dealing with large companies with complex HR policies, and the number of intermediaries between me and the team, I notice my anxiety going up and down. I can feel it in my chest, a sort of constriction in my throat like I’m about to cough. And then something distracts me – McSweeney’s, Facebook, tapping a few words out in this blog – and it goes down a bit. But then my unread email count ticks up on the tab on the browser, and I’m surfing the adrenaline surge as I check – thinking surely she would ring? – and it’s nothing, well, not nothing, but nothing to do with this, and I’m left with adrenaline washing around and nothing to do with it.

And so it goes.

I find my mind constructing little scenarios, and they are all ones where I am breaking the bad news to Anne that I didn’t get the job, that our financial problems are not about to get resolved. I visualise myself being polite to the agent, not shouting at her, after all she’s just doing her job, and I don’t want to burn any bridges.

We haven’t kept many people in the loop about the job, and that’s because I don’t want people like my parents worrying (any more than they are already), but also because I don’t want to have to be, yet again, having to walk things back. I feel as though I have spent a lot of my life doing that, and I want to minimise it. Which is a strain, because I’m an extravert and I like sharing what I’m going through with people.

Perhaps, at bottom, what this is is that I’ve been so often disappointed before that I find it hard to believe in good news until I have it absolutely confirmed. I always identified with Thomas the apostle: originally because I thought I was an independent free thinker like him, but now because I get the need to have things confirmed. Perhaps he was a disappointed man, who had put his faith in things which didn’t really carry the weight he gave them. He couldn’t believe in the good news (indeed the Good News) until he put his fingers in the wounds, couldn’t bear to put his faith in something which must have just seemed like wishful thinking.

This whole thing reminds me of our infertility “journey,” as we call it. Our own personal via dolorosa. All those days waiting for test results, waiting to see if the embryos were viable, whether they had implanted, waiting, waiting, waiting. And failing, failing, failing.

We used to call hope the enemy when we were doing the infertility thing: it was always urging us to have just one more cycle, just one more throw of the dice, come on, you’ve put so much into it already… More like addiction, more like the monkey on our back, than hope.

One of the frequent conversations we have at Moving On, our IVF failure group, is how hard it is to know when to stop. Six cycles? Ten? Fifteen? When you finally run out of money? There s no rational way to decide, until the doctor says: you know, maybe it’s time to start thinking about stopping. But then again, doctors are such A-type personalities, who didn’t get to where they are today by admitting failure, so they aren’t much help.

This whole thing has gotten me thinking about hope. What is this thing which is important enough to be promoted to be an official Virtue – one of the three Theological Virtues, along with faith and love? Why is Paul so keen on it: “these three remain, faith, hope, and love”?

There is a tension here for me, between my hope that my agent will ring me with good news, and a more foundational hope. That can sound like jumping to a prematurely theological conclusion if it is spoken too quickly, a too-quick, too-easy response to the very real trials and problems of life.. Nonetheless, I find a distinction between, on the one hand, my cherished hope that my current crisis will be resolved by this famous phonecall, which could very well be negative (although I very much hope it won’t be), and on the other my existential hope that the universe really is in good hands, that things are going to be fundamentally , permanently, and astonishingly, OK. The one is a sort of opinion made up of conjuring positive mental images, and trying not to pay attention to the alternatives, the other is something more basic, something difficult to imagine, something which can only be approached in images of banquets, celestial cities, and wells of ever flowing water.

So I guess this what I’m left with. Currently I’m job limbo, waiting for a phonecalll, but trying to hold onto that more basic sense of “everything, and I mean everything, is going to be somehow ok.” Which is, I guess, why it’s a virtue: it takes work to hold onto it. And hopefully it makes it more possible for me to deal with the immediate gap between desire and reality, and the knowledge of the very real consequences which could flow from this difficult situation.

So, I wait.

UPDATE: All the decision makers are away until next week, so I get to spend more time in this annoying liminal place. I feel like Jonah in a broken down whale.

By Alister Pate

I'm a minister in the Uniting Church in Australia, with two congregations: one in Northcote / Chalice, which now includes Cafechurch Melbourne, and one up the road in Reservoir, confusingly known as Preston High Street. I am

2 replies on “On Waiting Anxiously”

Great read mate. I love the tension between the two “hopes”. It has given me much to think upon.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts in such a raw and engaging way Al, reading this made me feel like I’m attending Cafechurch over the interwebs 🙂

I definitely relate – I think job (/PhD) applications and fertility are two of the most obvious areas of life where we really do have little control over the outcome – and for conscientious folk (like us?) this is such an affront! Though it does make us question how much control we actually do have in other areas, and how much of that ‘control’ actually relies on luck/opportunity/God 🙂

Fingers and prayers crossed you’ll get some good news soon!

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