In a Little While

My five year old asks the same question every morning on the way to school. “When is Halloween?”

My answer is usually a number, “20 days,” but sometimes it’s more elusive, like, “soon.” It doesn’t make much difference to him though because “soon,” “18 days” or, “in a while” are all measured by the length of a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse episode. If the anticipated event will occur in ‘one Mickey Mouse’ or less, it’s ‘soon’; beyond that, it’s an event that will occur sometime in the chaos of the unknown future, for he’s too young to grasp time.

I know a man who received an ominous diagnosis. The doctor told him that the disease in his heart, eventually, would kill him. “How long is ‘eventually’?” he wanted to know. “Days? Years?”

“In a little while.”

For my son, September days that rushed like flood waters now drudge through October, a stagnant, muddy mess that crawls its way to Halloween.

For the man with the heart condition though, time is moving at break-neck speed. He’s on the white water raft in a river called chronos begging for a tidepool that will stop the current, if just for “a little while.”

We demand of the woman behind the ticket counter, “When will another flight arrive?”

“In a little while.”

We beg with broken backs, “God, when will You take away this burden?”

“In a little while.”

A mother cries to the government, “When will Boko Haram release my daughter?”

“In a little while.”

The disciples mumble, “When are you going to the Father? When are you coming back?”

Jesus answers, “In a little while.”

And God bless them, they retort with the question we all have, “What does that MEAN, ‘in a little while’? What are you talking about?” (John 16:16-18).

Unfortunately, Jesus’ answer is not any clearer than the doctor’s diagnosis. In poised relativity, Jesus speaks of the pain of childbirth that lasts “a little while” and then is gone, replaced by such joy that the pain is forgotten.

That may be true, but the pain of ‘the little while’ is torture.

The disciples must have been near panic. To go from living and eating with, breathing the same air as God in flesh for years, and then to be left alone for an indefinite time, apart from the countenance of God’s face shining upon them must have been suffocating. Terrifying. Lonely. Surely they asked themselves each morning, “How long is ‘a little while’?”

But that’s the trouble with a conversation about time with an eternal God. God-the Alpha and Omega for whom a day is like a thousand years, and to whom our life is but a breath. Time is relative.

The weeping, the mourning, the anxiety, the suffering, the pain. “Lord, when will it end?”

“In a little while.” That’s the best answer we get.

Though, there is hope. Jesus introduces the Paraclete five times in this upper room conversation with the disciples over dinner.  This Comforter will be with them forever, abide with them, in them (14:16). This Helper will tell them what they need to know to get them through (14:25-26).

The Spirit is mercy in the waiting.

Moreover, the disciples had help in each other. Fellowship may not sound like much when the pain sets in, but it is much to these girls who endured the horrors of terrorist kidnappers together, and found the courage to run away together. Fellowship is much when you’re mad the plane to your high school reunion is late, but you meet a woman who is missing her grandmother’s funeral while waiting on the same delayed flight. Spiritual companionship is much when the baby just won’t come, no matter how you far you walk or how hard you push, but a compassionate soul holds your hand and says, “It’ll all be over, in a little while.”

“A little while” ends with joy. Every time. The joy may be elusive, and it may not come to completion in this life, but it’s there with us, in us. Though we have trouble-unspeakable trouble, Jesus whispers through the Spirit and our friends, “Take heart! I have overcome the world.” Take heart, beloved; you are not the only one to have had this agonizing conversation with the Lord.

“A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.”  Then some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying to us, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?”  They said, “What does he mean by this ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” John 16:16-18

Tiffany Dahlman Spiritual Director and M.Div. student at Asbury Theological Seminary Worships with the Helen Street Church of Christ Fayetteville, NC