Living in the amber

Traffic Lights.  Image courtesy of

I don’t know about you, but I am not a big fan of waiting too long for things to happen.  This of course depends on what it is I am waiting for, my expectations, and past experiences but, generally speaking, waiting can make me very edgy. I don’t mind waiting for plants to grow, or for something delicious to finish cooking well, or for Christmas to come around again in its proper time (not before December!), but waiting for longer-term things, like God’s answer to prayer…well, what is He doing with those petitions uttered every day? Where are the answers and when are they coming? Does God have a plan for me? Have I been forgotten about? Should I be doing something? If so, what?

I think that, if we are honest, most of us know that while we will not abandon our faith (we realise that God’s timing is not ours and there is a reason for everything) we often have times in our lives when the traffic lights just seem to be stuck on amber.

There seems to be some ambiguity about the amber light. Some believe that it is a ‘get ready’ light to stop now if it is safe to do so, while others use it as an opportunity to accelerate, again if it is safe to do so, just before it turns red. Either way, the light itself is never meant to be permanent – it is a brief in-between time, until you move on to something else and a decision is made – case closed, sigh of relief. A good description I came across was that it is a transition period between stop and go, as long as you do not break the law, that is, running the red light!

But what if, in life, we feel like we are just trapped in that transition period and the amber light is on all the time? It stays there and we are left feeling…okay, what now? What am I supposed to do? It feels strange and unsettling. Imagine what chaos would result if it happened in city traffic!

Everything about our modern way of life rails against waiting – we have instant access to whatever information we want through social media, live news feeds, and twenty-four hour analysis of the world around us. If I want to find the answer to something, all I need to do is type, tap, swipe, or click something, and there it is in front of me. People react awkwardly if you are not doing something interesting with your time, have an engaging job or activity on the go, or being busy. Try telling someone: “Oh, I’m just waiting around to find out what happens next in my life” and see how they respond.

There are circumstances where waiting for too long can be a matter of life and death – if you are caught in an emergency or disaster for example, or need crucial medical attention. But what if we are not in any dire situation? We should feel fine about waiting for just about anything, right? Patience is a virtue, isn’t it?

I believe the answer goes back to my introduction – it depends on what it is we are waiting for, but ultimately, it is all about God’s plan for our lives. It is about developing trust in Him who knows what is best for our own good, and our own lives, at the right time for us. Cultivating trust in God can happen through simple conversation with Him, taking the time to be quiet and discern any movements of the heart, acknowledging new thoughts and ideas, and sifting through any insistent promptings. Meditation combined with prayer is great for this, or just being still and breathing deeply for a few minutes every day.

Waiting means accepting that we might just have to stare at that amber light for quite a long time before we can figure out what we are meant to do. That is not the answer that many of us want to hear, but we must let go and realise that we are not in control – we are not God and were never supposed to be. That may not alleviate the uneasiness of our situation, and we may still feel very queasy, but it at least takes the pressure off ourselves to expect instant solutions, when we may just not be ready for them yet. If we also stop comparing ourselves with others whose prayers always seem to be answered quickly, or whose dreams always seem to be realized, we can find relief. Who knows what they have been through before us, and how long they were waiting?

So does ‘living in the amber’ time mean we can just sit there and hope for something to materialize out of the blue? It may turn out like that for some, but it usually does not work that way. As we know, faith without actions is dead, so if we feel the need to be more physically active (in addition to spiritually active – prayer is a powerful form of action too!), then we need to listen to that. It may be the Holy Spirit speaking to us to do something – to keep looking for that ideal job, seek out a priest or sister for counsel, ask a friend for advice, or proceed with your desire for some other positive activity, and see what happens. If it does not work out, then learn something from that and again go through that same process of trust and discernment as mentioned above.

Amber times are not easy and never will be. They will never go away. Even when the lights turn colour to red and we stop one activity or life circumstance, or green to move on with the next one, there will always be times of in-between again. We must accept it and trust that God sits with us at the lights. Best of all, we can trust that He is driving.

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