When to Wait and When to Act

by Reverend Jim Innes


“My mind goes every where… all at the same time…and way too often. Bouncing about between circumstance is often the course of my life.”

This is a common complaint. Especially of those feeling stressed or disconnected. Something we all know when our lives become fast paced and a little too harried.

When it happens to me I need remind myself that life is far more then the circumstance I encounter. And it is time to look inward and reconnect with Spirit.

In spiritual circles there appears 2 predominant ways of interacting with our life situation. Firstly, receiving and reacting to life as it comes, and as some might describe it, learning to wait on God, trusting that all will be well. And secondly, moving into life with assertive creativity, ‘fighting the good fight’, energized by a dynamic sense of responsibility and purpose.

There is a tension between these choices.

Choosing to be creatively assertive assumes you know (or you think you know) what needs to be done. But assumptions are often misconstrued because of narrow understanding, or tainted sympathies, or, more easily identified…those knee jerk emotional reactions we all, at times, fall prey to.

One friend suggested, “It [assumptive behavior] gets worse the older you get”. Meaning that with age come the associations created by years of experience. Experience that rears any number of unrelenting expectations not easily set aside…sediment from our past… commonly referred to as ‘baggage’.

I agreed but added, ”being older has the unfortunate but arguable benefit of uncomfortably recalling failure.” And I can attest to how this humbling affect helps rein assumptive choice…but not always.

Choosing to wait on God assumes you know it is best to not act or react in a particular moment or circumstance…but instead to raise the rudder and drift unassumingly. But such assumptions are as easily misconstrued as assumptions in choosing to act.

The choice to float rudderless can be symptomatic of an emotional wound…perhaps a fear-based reservation forcing a depressing passivity. It also masks as thoughtless egocentricity or ignorant indifference. Which is most likely the influence of past wounding also…more ‘baggage’.

And a good balance between waiting on God and acting assertively is not easily found. Attested to in the well-known Serenity Prayer, which speaks of the need for ”wisdom” to know the difference between what is possible to change (a call to action) and what must be accepted as unchangeable (a call to wait).

The prayer encourages our movement beyond the ‘baggage’, which might stimulate a hasty over reaction or, trigger a fearful under reaction (to the circumstance of our life). And, in doing do so we circumvent the (always destructive) fear-based behavior that drives both ends of the choice spectrum

So a balance between when to wait and when to act needs be sought to the end that, as sayings go, ‘we neither burn out nor rust out’. But remain connected to our highest hopes for others and ourselves.

As I see it, the biggest challenge is recognizing we are not balanced. This is the wisdom called for in the Serenity Prayer. It is about self-awareness…recognizing when we are half-consciously spinning in circumstance…reacting almost involuntarily to demands on our time, our thoughts or our energy. 

When we are wisely balanced, we respond to demands and circumstance with a mindful presence grounded in a purposeful intentionality.