Saturday, May 24, 2014

What to Do When The Chai's Not Ready...or How to Deal with Delay

Have you ever been waiting for something, then realized in the process that the thing that you're waiting for may take a lot longer than you had planned? Have you ever been so sure about something and felt so confident about your timing, then realized that whatever you had been brooding over would not necessarily be finished in the time you had allotted? Let's get more practical here. What are you to do, when you've been confidently pursuing a goal, a direction, perhaps a promise from God---if you believe like me that God speaks to humans---and you suddenly find yourself on a steep slope of indefinite delay? While I do not claim to have all of the answers, I do feel like I reached a breakthrough in this area this morning, and I'm eager to share it with you.

I was talking to God about this---actually, I've been talking to him a lot about this off and on---and this morning, I felt like he gave me a helpful key. First, let's look at two that I'm finding not so helpful. I'm going to frame this with the metaphor of chai, since that's how Jesus spoke to me this morning.

Imagine that you're making a big pot of chai, and you plan for it to be your best chai yet. You're confident about the recipe, the ingredients are fresh and in order, and as you proceed with each step, the aroma of the heavenly brew begins to stimulate your senses! "This is going to be an amazing chai!" you might say. You know that it's going to take some time, as it's a huge pot of chai, and the spices need to simmer long enough for their potent qualities to permeate the golden liquid. So you wait, you stir, you give it the time it needs, and more and more, the manifestation of chai becomes apparent before your eyes. It's time to remove the spices and pour in the milk! (I skipped the description of the previous steps, such as brewing the tea, so as not to turn this into a post on how to make chai.) Fast-forward. The beloved substance before you now looks like chai and smells like chai, and you've given it enough time, seemingly, for more of the water to boil out such that the milk takes its proper place to create a creamy consistency. The consistency should be right by now, so the spices can be removed and the sugar added. But wait! It's not thick enough yet! It's too watery! All of this time, and it's still not ready? What are we to do?

There are two options, no three, for how to proceed in the face of disappointing delay.

Option 1: Give up on the chai all together, concluding that the recipe was all wrong, and all of the time, energy, and ingredients invested were spent on a lost cause. You got it wrong. Pour out your progress, and count your losses, since you don't believe more time will really help. The recipe's wrong, remember?

Option 2: Keep believing, keep stirring, just give that chai more time, and test the consistency periodically to know when it's ready for the next stage. You got the recipe's just going to take more time than you thought. Stick with it, thirsty for chai though you may be, and neglectful as you might operate towards the other needs in your day.

I'll share Option 3 right after I expound on these first two. Option 1 is in some regard, the safest route, since if the recipe is indeed wrong, more time is not necessarily going to help things. It will just end up in more wasted time and greater disappointment after further hope and time were invested. But it's also the most wasteful option if indeed the recipe turns out to be right and what's needed really is more time. Option 2 is a good bet, as on many occasions, more time and patience is what's needed, though the fast pace of a high-speed, instant-everything society can make that difficult. Even so, if the recipe is right, then the ingredients are fine, and it's important to give the process its due.

But there's a problem with Option 2. Continuing with the metaphor of chai-making, this second option keeps one stirring and staring at the brew that is becoming, leaving the maker very thirsty and wanting in the process, and neglecting other needful activities that would have otherwise made for a very good day. You've heard the term "stir-crazy?" Well, I'd say that in some cases, that's an appropriate descriptor of what this option can do to a maker of chai who does not know how long it will be until the consistency is right. Having made many chai's myself, I know what it's like to stew in front of the pot, stirring, waiting, checking, tasting, waiting some more...And the thing about chai is that you can't simply leave it to simmer on its own, not the way I do it anyway. Somebody MUST remain with the pot at all times, lest the milk get too hot and boil over. But we don't want to go stir-crazy either, do we? So what's the solution? That's where Option 3 comes into play! Ready?

Option 3: Continue stirring for a bit, realizing that the recipe is right---you didn't get it wrong---and it's just going to need more time, and when God comes walking into the kitchen, offering to take your place at the stove, gladly accept his offer. Here's how I see this playing out between him and me or him and you:

God: Hey, it smells good!

You/Me: Yeah, I thought it was going to be a really good chai, but I don't know now.

God: My recipe's good. And I saw you getting everything ready. You're gonna be fine. Just give it some more time.

You/Me: That's what I was thinking too, that it just needs more time, and I should just be patient. But I don't know. I'm going stir-crazy here standing in front of this stove! I smell the chai, and I see it's going to be good, but I can't have it right now. And I'm really ready for some caffeination!

God: Why don't you let me take your place here, and mosey on into the living room. I made you some tea there, some of your favorite, and there's some shortbread for you too. Go. Take a rest. I'll let you know when this is ready. It's my recipe anyway, remember? You go and relax. Chai is supposed to be life-giving, not soul-sucking.

You/Me: Ain't that the truth? Okay, God. Thanks for taking over. Let me know if you want me to come back and stir some more.

God: Will do! Enjoy!

So, what does this look like practically? There are obviously different ramifications for whatever your particular situation is and depending upon what your particular chai is in this case. But I think these tips are fair across the board:

1. Get out of the kitchen for awhile. Find some space where you're not looking at and smelling the aromas of the chai that's just not ready yet. (In reality, that would be very difficult if making true chai in a small space, but perhaps your living space is larger than mine. This is where the metaphor breaks down, but ah well.)

2. Enjoy the tea that's already brewed and whatever treats are available to soothe your hunger. I find that God is always preparing something for the future, so what did he prepare in the past that finds its future present today? That last question might have felt like a quandry in time travel, so here it is another way: If something's not ready to enjoy right now, what IS ready? What is around you that is perfect for this present season? Go invest in that. The chai will continue to brew, and God will tell you when it's ready or when he wants your help again in the making.

3. The best things take time. Good chai cannot be rushed. Neither can the richest gifts that God wants to give us. If there's tremendous delay, it might just mean that the end result is going to be better than you thought. A baby takes 9 months to grow in the mother's womb, and even after birth, it still has a lot of growing to do. But it's always becoming more complete, its richness revealed layers at a time. Enjoy the process. But if the process is maddening, go back to suggestions 1 and 2 above. :-)

I myself am a dreamer. I don't typically go for the mediocre, which means that I go for the biggest adventures instead, the greatest desires. A great story, however, often requires many chapters, and that will unfortunately involve some delay. But which story would you rather be living? Or to go back to our chai metaphor, which brew would you rather be drinking? Watery and weak, or the creamy and rich, that most beloved substance? I'll take the latter...and I'll gladly let God I don't go crazy. Won't you join me in the other room for some tea and cookies in the meantime?

P.S. If you would like a soundtrack for this post, listen to the song "Run" by Collective Soul.

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