Holding Patterns


Depending on our focus, life's holding patterns can be miserable or manageable.

“Folks, we’ve got a bit of a situation.” The pilot’s voice rose above the static of the radio and the drone of the plane. I jiggled my son on my knees and shook a toy in his general direction, straining to hear over the flush of the airplane toilet. “Air traffic control is having some congestion problems, so we’re going into a holding pattern over Chicago. Sit tight and I’ll update you shortly.”

Uh-oh. Holding Pattern?

I had been a mother for less than two years. I didn’t feel qualified to travel anywhere with my toddler son, much less entertain him for an undetermined period. Our little family was folded into the last row of seats in the plane, nestled between a large businessman and the back wall of the bathroom. My diaper bag, usually full of enough stuff to outfit a preschool: depleted. My energy level: low. My hope that we would survive: zero.

Like this plane trip, holding patterns often sneak up on me. And life is full of them. Motherhood, relationships, and ministry can all bring times of holding patterns. They are times of waiting, with undetermined outcomes and nebulous timelines. A holding pattern may be days, or years, long.

I hate them. But I can’t avoid them, especially since I’m trying to have God lead my life.

Holding patterns can be miserable or manageable, depending on focus. I am sixteen months into a holding pattern, which at times has been excruciatingly painful for a go-getter like me. But somewhere in the pain, I know there is good. Here’s a few things I’ve realized in the process:

Holding Patterns Reveal Character.

Both pretty and ugly, holding patterns reveal who I really am. I went into our plane trip optimistic, buoyed by my unflagging energy level and attitude. But mothering has since taught me that energy eventually runs out and attitude always goes south, and then I’ve got nothing.

It’s easy enough to feel faithful to God when swimming in blessings. True character reveals itself when prayers seem unanswered and God seems far. By nature, I tend to be optimistic and adventurous. My current holding pattern has uncovered a fearful and anxious part of me that I usually escape through work and achievement. As much as it hurts, seeing my self as I really am has softened my heart for receiving God’s grace.

Holding Patterns Stretch Patience.

James 1:3 says the testing of our faith produces endurance. The definition of perseverance in the Bible is a “patient enduring”. The holding pattern on the plane and in my life reveals a much different kind of enduring. Rather than patient, I tend to be a moody sojourner. I endure, but not patiently.

When trapped in 37B, I tended to hold it all together for a few minutes, then rapidly cycle into sighing, crying, and needing reassurance from my husband that “YES, we will one day get off this plane….” That kind of patience isn’t the kind talked about in the bible, because it’s the patience that I try to conjure up from my naturally impatient personality. The kind of patience that can endure trials and holding patterns of all kinds is the one that God grants me, through a fingertip-clinging to the truth that He is always faithful. Even when I don’t understand it or can’t see beyond the airplane seat in front of me, He is also good. So I cling, repeating His promises like a cheerleader to myself. It helps.

Holding Patterns Test Trust.

My current holding pattern has left me yearning for stories of God’s faithfulness. In scripture, in my history, and in the lives of my friends, I delight in hearing about God coming through in the end. It gives me hope to know that He has not forgotten me. Sometimes in the space between awake and asleep, I sense God asking me, “Do you trust me?” I say with my whole heart, “I want to trust you. Help me to trust you more.”

A part of me knows that this holding pattern is part of a great story, even if I’m in the section when all hope seems lost. My independent faith is never enough in a holding pattern. Only with God’s patient and consistent reminders am I able to sustain trust in his plan.

Survive or Thrive?

I have two choices in holding patterns. I can survive, emerging weak and weary on the other side. Or I can choose to thrive. I can cling to the truth of who God is. He is faithful. He uses holding patterns to build faith. He loves me. He has good for me. I have an opportunity to patiently endure, to cling to the hope that I have in Him, and to go two, twenty, or two-hundred times a day to rest in his presence and choose to be OK with holding patterns.

My husband and I laugh about our Chicago trip. Our secret weapon turned out to be a bag of candy I stuffed into my diaper bag. For almost two hours, my curious toddler unwrapped each lollipop, licked it, and then wrapped it back up. He delighted the passengers around us, who were happy to be entertained. He took the moment and relished it. I want to be like him. I want to find the fun in the holding pattern, take hold of the moment, and let God take care of the rest.

I know my current test of faith will eventually end. But until then, I’m holding on to the memory of a chubby-cheeked toddler and a bag of Dum-Dums, and looking forward to the things I’ll learn from life's holding patterns.

Written by Nicole Unice

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