For Those Whose Lives Are, Have Been, Or Ever Will Be “On Hold.”
It’s a challenge to know how to move forward in terms of re-engaging with the world around us right now. The COVID pandemic, with its myriad responses for so many of us (for all of us actually) is moving into the rear view mirror and we’re not sure whether we’re going “back to normal” or trying to piece together a “new normal” or how this is all going to settle out. My communication with friends from around the world, including many of you who are reading this blog post, has made me aware that the government, church, business, and social responses have been ever-changing and often confusing! Many of you are in places where the lockdowns continue or have recently been re-instated. Others are in places where some restrictions are lifted while others remain. Others are presently experiencing a sort of Wild-West free-for-all and frustrated by the sudden lack of order in the process.
Anyhow, I’m not going to keep banging on about COVID. We’ve all been “On Hold” in some ways and how we respond to the next steps in the process can reveal a great deal about a great deal! And you may be “On Hold” in some way or ways I know nothing about. So I’m going to tell you a story about an “On Hold” experience that taught me a lot about myself…
When we moved from London to a cabin in the forest thirty miles southwest of Bend, Oregon in October 1999, the very first thing we did upon arriving was to contact the phone company to connect us for phone service. We discovered right away that the house had never had phone service, and that in order to connect a phone line to the house it required that two miles of phone cable be run, partly overhead on existing power line poles and partly underground in a trench. We further discovered that in order to run this phone cable, permits had to be issued by the United States Forest Service and by the US Bureau of Land Management each of which controlled part of the land that the cable had to pass through.
There was an initial flurry of activity with engineers and surveyors coming out to have a look at what had to be done and where it had to be done. Then our order was assigned to the phone company’s Delayed Order Department (that had an ominous sound to it from the beginning!), and we were given a case number and told that as soon as the necessary permits were obtained and as soon as the winter snows (which hadn’t even arrived yet) were gone, the phone line would be installed.
Thus began my winter of being put on hold! In order to contact the phone company’s Delayed Order Department, I was required to dial an initial number, then work through a series of menus (automated menus several layers deep were still relatively new to us all in 1999!) which I negotiated by listening to a computer voice and pressing the appropriate key on the phone and eventually I would hear a voice telling me “you have reached the Delayed Order Department. All our case managers are currently dealing with other customers. Your call is important to us and will be answered in the order in which it was received.” And then the “On Hold” music would begin to play.
- “Just let me put you on hold for a moment.”
- “Will you hold, please?”
- “Your call is important to us.”
- “Thank you for holding. Your call will be answered in the order in which it was received.”
It is so frustrating to work through a multi-layered computerized menu for ten minutes only to be put on hold! And the longer you hold, the more you feel you have invested in the process and the harder it is to hang up. And you still need to get through to the person or agency who has power over some aspect of your life or you wouldn’t have phoned in the first place!
Life on Hold…
It’s not just the phone company or a business or government agency that can “put you on hold.” Sometimes it seems like life itself is “on hold.”
Life on Hold can be the feeling you can’t do things you need to do because you’re waiting for someone else to do something, to make a decision, to act. You may find yourself waiting for the decision or action of someone who doesn’t seem to have your best interests at heart or who doesn’t have the same priorities as you. You may find yourself waiting for some sequence of circumstances to fall into place before you can move forward.
Feeling as if your life is on hold may be a particular problem of people who desire to live purposefully. It can also be the problem of people who desire to serve because the desire to serve often puts you in a place of depending on the decisions and actions of others.
Some people are “on hold” because of a difficult marriage; some are “on hold” because of complicated family situations; some are “on hold” in frustrating, dead-end jobs. Some are filling ministry positions in churches where the congregation or the senior pastor has you “on hold.” Debt may have you “on hold.” Poor health may have you “on hold.” Waiting for retirement or for the kids to be grown and on their own can give a feeling of being “on hold.”
When your life is “on hold” it seems like everything gets projected into the future: “someday it will happen…” Energy drains away, discouragement sets in, creative thoughts are consumed by being and feeling “on hold.”
Why Am I On Hold?
If you’re at all like me, you want things to have a reason. You want it to make sense that you’re on hold for some larger purpose that will eventually be revealed. Here’s a “reason” joke: “Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes the reason is that I’m stupid and make bad decisions!”
Anyhow, when I was looking for a reason that the phone company had put my life “On Hold” I asked myself questions like the following:
- Is it to better know and fulfill God’s will and purpose?
- Is it to fulfill my responsibility to others?
- Is it because of my own actions or bad decisions?
- Do I have an unhealthy dependence on someone or something?
- Is it merely a matter of timing?
- Am I being impatient?
- Is there a work of grace to be done in me through this experience?
While there may have been elements of any or all of those in my situation, I never got an answer to my question, “Why?”
But as I processed through the eight months of waiting for the phone to ring, I thought of a variety of reasons for a variety of situations of “Life on Hold”:
- You’re getting an education, formal or otherwise.
- Your spouse is not on the same track spiritually so you can’t move forward.
- Your children are a primary responsibility. When they are grown you’ll have greater freedom.
- You find yourself raising your children’s children.
- You’re working faithfully and waiting for retirement.
- You are in debt and you “owe your soul to the company store!”
- Ill health prevents you from doing all you feel you should be doing.
- You’ve experienced a business failure and you’re trying to pick up the pieces.
- Your parents are in ill health and becoming dependent on you.
- There is some other covenantal obligation that demands your fulfillment.
It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. (Psalm 119:71 NIV)
Life On Hold… Is There Really A Reason And A Purpose?
Sometimes it is simply necessary to be “on hold.” I believe it is important to take an honest and objective look at our situation (get some help with this if you can’t be objective) and see if there is divine purpose in being “on hold.” Is God using this time on hold to speak to you? What’s the music playing in the background? Is it the voice of God?
Life on Hold… Using The Phone Call Metaphor To Think About What To Do And How To Live When Your Life Is On Hold. There are some things you can do while your life is on hold! It’s your decision after all. What you do now and what you do next is up to you!
- Decide if it’s really important to get through. Make it your decision rather than someone else’s. Am I holding for something that is not really God’s best for me?
- Sometimes you can leave a message. Pray about the situation and release it to God. Let it go to God and get on with life. “Commit your way to the Lord..” Psalm 37
- Don’t allow yourself to begin to “whine” and blame God or others for your frustration. There is a real danger of developing resentment against those you feel have put your life on hold. Live as unto the Lord. Rejoice in the Lord. In everything give thanks.
- Be willing to “hang up” the phone and be confident that God knows your number and will call you when He’s ready. What if I’m out? He’ll leave a message. Sometimes you just need to hang up and get on with life! Let Go!
- Find some practical things to do while on hold. Live each day as it comes. Find purpose in each day’s plans and activities. Develop personal disciplines of time use and accomplishment.
- Make the very best of your present situation. Learn to be content in all circumstances. Realize – Remember – Know that each day is now. Each day is part of the reality of your life. Tomorrow is probable but not certain.
- You do have today. This is your reality. This is your life! Live the life you have. Make it purposeful. Seek to live with purpose and integrity while “on hold.” You may find you’re not on hold after all! You may find purpose and satisfaction in the very thing you felt was “holding you” from purpose and satisfaction.
Life on Hold… I Don’t Have Time For This!
After many years of pretty intense ministry activity, developing the Bible Training Centre in Jamaica, then going to the UK and developing the schools there and then launching into training pastors in Africa, the winter of 1999-2000 I found myself in an isolated log house in the remote mountains of Central Oregon and I began to feel as if life was over and effective ministry was finished. I knew better. I knew that God had given us this opportunity to rest and reflect, but I still felt that life was “on hold” nonetheless! I thought, “I haven’t got time for this! Doesn’t God know the clock is ticking?”
During this time three good friends spoke honestly to me in a season when I was feeling that my life was “on hold.” Hugh Laybourn spoke to me of future hope and encouraged me to look up and ahead. Darryl Rodman spoke to me of rest and refreshing to renew strength and prepare for a new level of ministry. Ray Stokes spoke to me of past achievements and of my present attitude and encouraged me to appreciate and make the best of the current situation. All three were very helpful. Do you have someone who can “speak the truth in love” and caringly confront you?
Out of months or sometimes years of “being on hold” may come one insight, one revelation of grace and truth that turns your lump of charcoal into a diamond.
Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility, not as men who do not know the meaning of life, but as those who do. Make the best use of your time, despite all the evils of these days. Don’t be vague, but grasp firmly what you know to be the will of the Lord. (Ephesians 5:15-17 JBP)
There is a sense in which for the committed believer, life is never on hold. God is working on us and in us in every delay, every frustrating experience, every setback we experience. God works in us so that He can more effectively work through us.
I hope you find some insight in my “On Hold” story that is helpful to you. I still struggle with some of these things. For me, the nature of my learning and growth, the nature of my slow progress from who I am to who I want to be usually involves more than one experience in the process of learning the important lessons. The most important thing is to keep going. Let God determine how many lessons it takes. Keep showing up. Keep responding to the grace God sends your way. Don’t quit!
So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:35-36 NIV)
As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.