How Long?

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- Troy Hatfield

A young kid asked a provocative question at our baptism orientation class a couple weeks ago: “How many seconds or minutes will we be under the water?”

My friend’s niece asked this questions when she learned her aunt and uncle were soon moving far away:  “Is two weeks a very long time?”

Isn’t it cute the way little kids struggle with the concept of time?  

There’s a deep and primal question behind the cuteness that isn’t simply a young wondering. The heart of those two questions is the very familiar “how long”?

As I grow more familiar with the Scriptures, the more convinced I am this “how long” is one of the main refrains that tie together the stories. We find the Israelites longing to be free from slavery; the seemingly-aimless wilderness wanderings; the Psalmists’ pleas to be heard and rescued; the Prophets’ desperation for justice and the coming Messiah; the sighs and groans of creation and the Church of Jesus, pining for restoration and wholeness.  

“How long, O Lord?”

When I’m paying attention to more than myself, I hear this refrain all around me as well. “How long before I get the job – the diagnosis – the desired answer?” “How long am I going to be single – depressed – overlooked – disrespected?” “How long will the arguing last – the bills go unpaid – the bad guys win?”

“How long, O Lord?”

I’m embarrassed to admit I used to associate asking these kinds of questions with weakness, with lacking faith, with selfishness. As I very slowly grow up and mature, my mind is being changed. I am challenged and moved by those who have the temerity and courage to ask “how long”.  

It seems to me the asking is a sign that one hasn’t given up. Asking “how long” points to even the smallest amount of hope. Asking “how long” implies a belief there is a possible resolution. The question seems a sign one hasn’t resigned that things will always be this way. “How long will we be under” points to a time when being under won’t be the reality. That’s not an expression of weakness – that is a statement of faith.  

May we be the kind of people who aren’t afraid to ask “how long”. May we have the courage to name our current reality and cling to the slivers of faith that are sure to keep us afloat. And may we find encouragement as we join our sighs and groans with the rest of creation, trusting the Spirit not only interprets those expressions, but echoes them, longing with us for all to be made right.   

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Troy is Lead Worship Pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, MI, where he’s been on staff since 2004. A musician, Anglophile, voracious reader and owner of more black clothing than anyone he knows, Troy has also recently married Lis, a violinist and lover of every member of the animal kingdom. Follow Troy on twitter 

@tr0yisbald

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