For Those Who Wait {Which is all of us!}

by Amy Young on November 15, 2017

Today I’m excited to talk with Tanya Marlow author of Those Who Wait: Finding God In Disappointment, Doubt, And Delay. Years ago Tanya asked me to guest post for her God and Suffering series. (That series, by the way, is a gold mine.) Over the years, Tanya and I have become friends, real friends. We’ve never met in person, but you can see why I’m drawn to Tanya, she doesn’t dodge the questions many wonder about. Read to the end for a surprise. Without further ado, my conversation with Tanya.

Tell us a bit about your background. What did you dream your life would be like?

I was a typical good-Christian-girl, wanting to live my life for God and serve God in full-time Christian ministry. As a kid, I thought my calling was in cross-cultural work overseas. (This may have been because it was viewed as the ‘highest calling’ in Christian circles, with maximum holiness points. Although my motives were relatively pure in wanting to serve God, they may have been tinged with little compassion-competitiveness….!)

I didn’t end up overseas, but by my twenties, I was happy. I was living my dream of working fulltime as a Christian minister, lecturing in Biblical Theology, happily married to someone also in Christian ministry.

Then chronic illness struck me, and my life was turned upside down.

How has the whole issue of waiting featured in your life?

In 2010, I gained a baby and a disability. I have Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), an autoimmune condition which affects every cell in my body, like a giant faulty battery. Before, I was active and fit – now I can barely walk around the house, and need to lie in bed 21 hours a day. Before, I was seeing people all the time, speaking and pastoring: now my ministry has morphed into the few words I can tap out from my bed in a week.

There’s no real treatment for ME, and the illness is underfunded and under-researched. There’s a very slim possibility of full recovery, and I could deteriorate further, like so many other bedbound ME patients.

A new Oscar-tipped documentary, Unrest, tells the story of what it’s like to live with ME. Your life becomes an eternal semi-colon, stuck on pause while the world continues around you.

I wait for improvement, I wait for deterioration. I’m stuck in the middle, living in uncertainty.

For seven years, I have grieved my old life. Often I have felt laid aside and rejected, and I’ve railed at God for my new prison.

It’s been hard – excruciatingly hard at times – but I’ve discovered something of God’s hidden kindness in barren places.

Why do you think the issue of waiting is particularly pertinent for people living overseas?

Although I never quite made it to overseas work (and ended up marrying a Church of England vicar in my native Britain), I still have the most respect for those in that sector, and have long been an enthusiastic supporter of those called to serve abroad.

To be in cross-cultural work is to be in-between, always. A life overseas is a continuous state of waiting:

  • to feel settled,
  • to return home,
  • to be able to understand the language instead of feeling stupid,
  • to stop crying at night from homesickness,
  • to feel like an intelligent person again who has something to offer society,
  • for the kids to be happy,
  • for fruit to show
  • for letters and emails to arrive
  • for the money to come through
  • for a home and place to belong.

Waiting is hard. To be in a liminal, in-between state for a short time is discomfiting and exhausting. To be in a season of waiting for decades can be soul-crushing.

Because Those Who Wait is honest about the reality and discomfort of waiting, I hope it can be a source of encouragement for those who feel exhausted with living in an in-between state.

Why choose the four heroes that you did? Why not others? What drew you to these four?

I was drawn to the liturgical season of Advent, particularly the lightning of the Advent candles.

The first candle stands for the Patriachs. I chose a ‘matriarch’, Sarah. Through her story, we deal with disappointment and bitterness, waiting for joy and fulfilled promises.

The second candle represents the Prophets, so I chose Isaiah. We rarely think of him as a person, rather than just a prophetic mouthpiece. I wanted to explore the personal cost of his truth-telling, and through that how we with delay and frustration as we wait for justice and peace in our land.

John the Baptist is the next candle. Through his story, we explore our struggle with doubt as we wait to live out our life’s calling.

And Mary, mother of Jesus’ story is the story of all humanity – dealing with disgrace and isolation as we wait for Jesus’ coming.

Advent is a season that celebrates and marks the discomfort of waiting, as we consider how the saints waited for Jesus’ appearance, and how we long for this world to be restored at Jesus’ second coming.

Advent gives us permission to name our deepest longings, and lament that this world is not as it should be. Those Who Wait can be read at any point, but the Advent season really speaks to our waiting journey, and the book is structured in 24 short chapters. Many readers of Those Who Wait are saving their books to savour through Advent.

I wanted to explore these issues through story, like an engaging novel, because it’s through re-entering the story God can speak to our souls in new ways. It’s always good to remember that our revered Christian heroes are actually human – and the Bible is more honest than we are about the struggle of waiting.

Which section did you enjoy writing most?

Like your own children, you’re not supposed to have favourite characters. (But mine’s John the Baptist.)

In any other period of history he would have been revered as THE prophet of God – but he was overshadowed by his cousin, then waited for years in prison before his traumatic death at the hands of Herod.

Where was God in his waiting and suffering? This is the question that drove me. What really surprised me was the kindness of God to John – and to us. Through writing Those Who Wait, I discovered that God is in the waiting with us, groaning with us, being merciful in unexpected ways, if we can only pause to spot it.

What is your hope for this book?

My hope is that churches, organisations and small groups can meet around this book (there are reflective exercises, group questions and even six Bible studies), and that through the journey they will be able to work through their own discomfort, disappointment or doubt that accompany seasons of waiting.

For people long-jaded by the same old sermons and Bible stories, I hope it will reignite a passion for the honesty and dynamism of the Bible..

Most of all, I pray that readers will encounter God in these pages and find it transformational. May it bring perspective, purpose and empathy for weary hearts, and may God always meet us in the waiting place. This is my prayer.

Tanya, thanks for sharing a bit of your journey as an author and Christian with us.

What are you waiting for? Which of the four Biblical heroes can you relate to now? Leave a comment and you might win a copy of Tanya’s book. Winners will be notified by Sunday.

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About Amy Young

Free resource to help you add tools to your tool box. When Amy Young first moved to China she knew three Chinese words: hello, thank you and watermelon. She is known to jump in without all the facts and blogs regularly at The Messy Middle. She also works extensively with Velvet Ashes as content creator and curator, book club host, and connection group coordinator. She writes books to help you. Amy is the author of Love, Amy: An Accidental Memoir Told in Newsletters from China and Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service. Looming Transitions also has two companion resources: 22 Activities for Families in Transitions and Looming Transitions Workbook. You can listen to it too.
  • Iris

    Thanks so much for drawing our attention to the waiting. So true in this moment when I’ve been waiting for a visa for many months now… Earlier today I read and again your blog makes me realise how important it is to focus on my everyday not only the things I’m waiting for, and to find my joy in the One who is always here!
    And then in this country where I live there’s the waiting to see change, to see justice, to see peace, knowing that this can only come with a deep change of heart as people start follow the Savior of the world. Isaiah strikes me when I read your blog. However, my lifelong hero of waiting is Moses, who had to wait forty years before he could follow the call that he had. And there was much other waiting in his life too…

    • Wow, you have a lot of waiting going on Iris. Trusting that God will meet you each day as you wait.

  • barefoot_mama

    I hate to love to hate Sarah and all those years. Oh my heart, I would love to read this book! On my list.

  • EJ

    I am waiting for the opportunity to find out what’s next in life after I leave the field in about 6 weeks.
    I relate most to John the Baptist right now, almost constantly working through doubt as I “wait to live out my life’s calling.”

    • EJ, you are in what can be such a tough phases. Praying for you!

  • Kathy Vaughan

    I haven’t felt so much that I was in a waiting game at this stage of my life, until I read Tanya’s description of life overseas as a continual state of waiting – and of course, I identified with several of the things she mentioned. And then as I contemplated this idea of waiting, I realized that I am waiting for other things as well – waiting to see how long I can delay probable hip surgery before I need to return to the US to do something about it, how long I can continue to serve where I am before my health or my mother’s health (or home going) calls me back to America. And I wonder, if I am called back to America for these or other reasons: Will I ever return to ministry here? I think I need this book! Right now, I maybe would relate most to Isaiah, aching for the country I serve to experience the light, freedom, and justice that only comes through Jesus.

    • Kathy, funny you mention not felling like you are in a very waiting phase, I would have said the same. And then, like you, I had my eyes opened by Tanya’s book! I realize now we are all waiting far more than I realize!

      • Kathy Vaughan

        It’s true, this world is not our home, we’re just a’passin’ through. Someday, though . . . !

  • Kristen Torres-Toro


  • Kristen T

    This is definitely on my list! I feel like I xan relate to Sarah.

  • Amy Olson

    Thank you for your post on this, and the highlight of the book! I look forward to reading it. As a “newer” missionary, I recognize how I have learned to wait on God – 12 years for the call to serve overseas to be fulfilled, and now “waiting” as we listen for God’s direction for the future. I admire Tanya’s mental stamina through what must be such a trying time with physical illness. I get down on myself for being sick for short periods of time, which tend to be frequent when living in a country with endemic amoeba, parasites, and worms. I can only imagine how much you have had to learn through a period of long illness. I have many friends also going through health challenges or significant waiting periods, and I am looking forward to gleaning from this book ways to have conversations with them that draw them closer to the Lord. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Hello fellow Amy! Glad to hear this connected on so many levels!

  • Jody

    Thanks for this post! What I’m waiting for changes, of course, but a long-term wait for me has been to be married. I’ve been a missionary for over 25 years. I’m in my soon-to-be middle 50s (Yikes – how did that happen?!!) and I’d love to be married. I have found God in the wait for a husband and still there are times when the wait has seemed unbearable. God faithfully reminds me He’s there.

    • Jody, I”ll be turning 50 soon and can relate to the “how did this happen?!” :). I”m thankful that God walks with us for the long haul and I see more each day how quickly life goes, even in the very slowness of some season. Ah, the paradox!

  • Megann

    Wow, this was a great post. I’m definitely looking forward to reading that book. From the list definitely waiting to understand the language (it’s getting there, but definitely slowly!) and waiting for fruit to show. Especially the waiting for fruit to show one…it seems like it’s so hard to see much of that and sometimes I wish I could see more happening now. That said, with the 4 people mentioned actually the person that came to mind that maybe I can relate most to is Sarah with her waiting to have a child. In my situation it’s actually waiting for a husband but it seems like it would be similar – getting married and having a child are both “typical” things in a woman’s life so I think waiting for either of those things can definitely be hard.

    • Megann, I can relate to wanting to see more happening now!!! 🙂

  • Sharon

    Oh Wow — I didn’t think I was in such a waiting phase – but I can identify so many areas where I am waiting….for language (learning a new one after 25+ years overseas in another context)….for feeling like I can contribute something worthwhile – to the community….for my kids — even though they are young adults now — there are not all completely “launched” — do you ever get beyond this stage??? I am definitely going to put this one on my must read list. And I so love advent and was wondering just what I was going to do this year. So this is so “à propos!”

    • It is! Between stage of life, new(ish) location, and season of the year, this book fits you!

  • evertfamily

    I guess I can relate to John the Baptist right now with my husband. We are in full time missionary work, but he has been side-lined with migraines many many times in this last year.

    • Oh wow, that sounds like it has been a long road. Prayers sent your way!

  • Rebecca Abrahamson

    Tanya’s description of waiting exactly mirrors my experience of it on the mission field. I can’t wait to get this book and go through Advent with it; my sister and mother and I go through books together and this is like hitting gold for something new and certainly (hopefully) refreshing.

    • Rebecca, I think you three will be blessed, encouraged, and challenged as you read this book! I know I have been and so has my small group (we are going through it now. And I’ll teach an advent Sunday School class on it too :))

  • Jill Wolf

    I can relate to the story of Sarah. The never ending wait to see God come through and bring purpose to it all has been a journey for me that seems to never end. I have even been guilty of taking things in my own hands (like Sarah) in an effort to speed things along. Even with Sarah’s failings, God was faithful to His word!

    • I think we all have tried to speed things along at times :). Thank God that he IS faithful!

  • Dave Mary

    “the Bible is more honest than we are about the struggle of waiting.” This struck me and I want to search this out more… He IS in the waiting.

  • Brenda Stoltzfus Reibson

    Tanya’s writing, and especially this book, speak to me in my own time of waiting. I have been rebuilding my life after my husband’s sudden death 5 years ago, relocating, remarrying, going to Seminary and getting an M.Div., qualifying for ordination with my denomination, and now searching (waiting!) for a call. Tanya has been a wise and compassionate companion on my journey. Her words enable me to face the difficulty of the uncertainty of life and are giving me words with which I can comfort others. Thank you, Tanya; you’re a gem!

    • I agree! (And what a journey you’ve been on! Thanks for the glimpse into it!)

  • Paula

    Sounds like a great read! As a missionary, I have probably done more waiting than I realized. Coming from the fast-paced USA, our culture tries to make us believe we can have almost instant anything. So waiting is not usually pleasant, but a necessary part of life. Sounds like Tanya has written about some hard lessons we can ALL benefit from.

    • That was my take as I read the book . . . we can all benefit from these lessons and seeing how God has met others as they waited.

  • Linda

    Waiting. It certainly is a big part of this life overseas, even after 10 years. I would really enjoy reading this book.

    • It is! And in some seasons it is easier than others!

  • Thanks everyone! A winner has been drawn and notified.

  • Nathanael Ayling

    tears welled up as I read this interview, particularly, the list of ways in which cross-cultural workers are waiting. Tanya, how do you know these struggles so well? You speak as if you have years of experience of life overseas. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for all your efforts in writing this book. I look forward to reading it!

  • Christopher O’Shaughnessy

    Thanks so much for posting this interview – I ordered “Those Who Wait” immediately after reading it! As plenty of others have said, how perfect to draw the connection between waiting and cross-cultural work. I’m sincerely grateful!

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