Waiting is life in the meantime. It is not a life on hold or serving a punitive time out (although it usually feels like it). There are many components–daily, I see more. Of these two, I am most sure: Expectancy and Mystery.

Expectancy: My definition of expectancy is to look at the world in wonder. Where will God reveal Himself today? Perhaps He will break my heart with compassion for someone I previously treated with nonchalant indifference. Maybe on a cold winter night a Chinook tousles my hair, and I am reminded that after the cold  and earthquake–after the mighty wind and fire there comes a gentle blowing (I Kings 19:11-12). Perhaps it is hospitality as when, in the home of a Muslim family from Saudi Arabia, I finally found welcome, honest dialogue, and laughter to contrast to the years of closed doors and suspicion of a mean-hearted, small town. Waiting is bearable with an open and expectant heart.

Expectancy is not the same as expectations. Unrealistic expectations spoil the view, ruin a day–a life. They cause us to manipulate and tempt us to control; they estrange us from fellow humans at global and personal levels, and we are disappointed when our expectations are not fulfilled. We overreact–fights erupt over how the toilet paper hangs or where to squeeze the toothpaste tube. Joyful days–whether ordinary or special–crumble to the fantasy of our expectations of what they are supposed to be.

Mystery: The awareness of mystery is the acknowledgment that the frozen ground of winter contains a riot of summer color.  Movement and stirrings exist beneath numbing cold. Rhizomic roots spread farther and deeper than our limited imaginings. Two years of uncertain employment–downsizing and a shifting of company vision might result in a new department–a new job that in turn allows the creation of more new jobs–new hope and provision for many. No Google search or special lens will reveal exactly what is taking place, but in the realm of Mystery that a deep and abiding work is forming.

Waiting with Expectancy and awareness of Mystery allows us to see the promise. Against the silence, a baby’s cry. Against the night, a star.

While we have quiet, secure seasons of joy and peace, most of life is “in the meantime.” The meantime is a cold place that howls with winds of uncertainty and doubt. Perhaps an illness threatens. Addictions rupture families. Job loss catapults a family toward homelessness. Divorce. Death.

Time freezes and vision truncates.

What can one do to strengthen and encourage someone who is suffering? The key is in the word “do.” Do something. Take action. This does not include wringing your hands and saying, “I wish I knew what to do.” It does not include leaving a bewildered, wounded person with, “Call me if you need anything.”

In your way, let them know you care. Tell them you care—simply and directly. Go for a walk with them. See if they would like to take a writing, photography, or exercise class with you. Write a note or ten. Give them a hug. Buy them a CD. Find a special book—a gift (steer clear of self-help books). Bring a special tea—a magazine. Offer your ears for listening. Give them your time.

Think about what is most difficult for them—not what is most convenient for you.

Do not take over their lives—let them control what they can when everything else seems so out of control.

Leave the counseling to the professionals. You might encourage everyone to come to you for advice, but you can harm others by stroking your ego.

Cry along with them, but do not put the person in the position of having to host, entertain, and comfort you.

Do not tell them how they should feel. Allow them to move through the circumstances at their pace.

Bystanders—family and friends—can ease the suffering or propagate the sorrow. Senseless platitudes wound even further. Murmuring about bootstraps and “moving on” demonstrates insensitivity and ignorance.

Recognize that you cannot do everything, but sincere gestures buoy those in the midst of difficulties and give breath to those gasping for hope. You cannot help everyone, and no one expects that of you. Remember those who are close to you—in your circle of influence—coworkers, family, friends, neighbors. Help them through the meantime.