In my Introduction to Theater class as a college freshman, one of the plays I read was Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, sit around waiting for the arrival of some unknown man named Godot. But Godot never comes. There really is no further plot than this. Plays such as Beckett’s which belong to a particular school of theatre, the Theatre of the Absurd, aim not at telling a story but at illustrating some existential claim, usually something along the lines of “life has no meaning.”
In Lent we hear repeatedly that we are to wait for the Lord. The Psalms are full of these exhortations: “Wait for the Lord, be strong; / be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord!” (Ps 27:14); “Be still before the Lord and wait in patience” (Ps 37:7); “Our soul is waiting for the Lord. / He is our help and our shield” (Ps 33:20). Sometimes the Psalmist takes on a more desperate tone: “I am wearied with crying aloud; / my throat is parched. / My eyes are wasted away / with waiting for my God” (Ps 69:4). Though sometimes full of hope, our waiting can sometimes seem to drag on so long that we begin to wonder whether we wait in vain. It is helpful to realize, however, that we are not the only ones waiting. No, God also waits—for us.
But doesn’t this present a problem? Who is waiting for whom? What if Godot never came because he was waiting for Vladimir and Estragon to come to him? When two people are waiting each for the other to come, does their waiting ever end?
At such an apparent impasse, it seems clear that someone must make the first move. But with God it cannot be the case that our waiting ends only after we make the first move toward him, because the first move is not ours to make. In truth, the first move has already been made. God loved us first, and “we love, because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19).
Still, it does perhaps seem odd that God should wait for us—odd, that is, until we consider that God’s waiting is wholly unlike our own: “Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you; / therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. / For the Lord is a God of justice: / blessed are all those who wait for him” (Is 30:18). We are waiting to “see the Lord’s goodness / in the land of the living” (Ps 27:13). God waits to be gracious to us and show us his mercy. We wait to receive. God waits to give. And yet, God is always giving—his mercy is always at work.
The key difference, I think, between God’s waiting and our own lies in how the waiting is done. When we wait, even for God, we often tend towards impatience. God, on the other hand, is patient with us, as a father is with his children. During Lent we are likely to experience the trials of the spiritual life in a more intense way, and it may seem that God is distant. But these days are an opportunity for us to recognize our sins, faults, and failings, and to turn back with our whole heart to him who waits patiently for us, guiding us by his grace all along the way. St. Paul exhorts us: “[Do] not receive the grace of God in vain. For he says: In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2).
Samuel Beckett once said that he considered Christianity to be nothing more than an interesting mythology, and that he did not intend the character of Godot to be a metaphor for God, despite their similarity in name. Whether intended or not, it would have been a tragically inaccurate metaphor. Godot never comes, and Vladimir and Estragon simply remain waiting by their tree indefinitely; God, however, does come, and he does not keep silence (cf. Ps 50:3). He speaks his Word of truth, calling us to himself.
Image: Edward Burne Jones, Dorigen of Britain Waiting for the Return of Her Husband