(Understatement alert!) I don’t do very well with the whole waiting thing. For example, I always have to read how a mystery turns out before I work my way to the end of the book. If I received the chapters of a book in installments, so that I couldn’t read ahead, I would deal with it. But if the ending of a book is right there in my hands, I couldn’t imagine holding off to see how it ends. They say that the best things in life are worth waiting for, but I say, if they’re so darn good, why wait? So, for me, the only waiting I do is waiting that is imposed upon me. I can’t remember the last time I waited for something by choice. Delayed gratification isn’t all that gratifying to me. I eat dessert first a lot!
I suspect that technology hasn’t served me well as a wait-er. When I first started using the internet and dial-up was my only option, I could sit and listen with amusement to the cartoon noises my computer emitted while I waited for the little hamsters inside to grab onto a connection. Now I would gladly choose water-boarding over going back to a dial-up connection. My tolerance for waiting seems to diminish every time I flick my finger and receive an instant result.
People aren’t machines. You can’t push a button and get them to do what you want them to do when you want them to do it. And so, I sit and wait for the doctor’s office to give me test results. I wait for the cable guy to come to the house so I can watch T.V. again. I wait for my daughter to call me back on the phone. Being human myself, I understand the limitations we all have. When you deal with other people, you have no choice but to wait. And the more people you have to deal with, the more you have to wait. Have you ever traveled with a group of people? The more the merrier? Not for me! The more, the crabbier. We’re always waiting on someone. Gladys is in the gift shop. Herb is in the bathroom. Stan locked himself out of his room and needs to get a key. Shirley can’t find her sun glasses. When I picture hell, I imagine it as an endless group vacation.
Lately, it seems like I’ve been spending way too much of my precious time waiting. And it’s occurred to me that all waiting is not created equal. At this moment there are members of my congregation who are waiting for their first child to be born. And we’re all waiting for the oldest member of our congregation, who is almost 102 years old, to die as she lives through her final days. Those events are just a matter of time. You know they’ll get here sooner or later. When they come, it’s a relief.
Open-ended waiting is another animal entirely. That’s waiting for something that may or may not ever happen. I have a number of dear friends who are waiting for their next job right now. Despite their best efforts, doing everything in their power to make it happen, they’re left with endless waiting. And they wonder, “Am I waiting for nothing?” Waiting with uncertainty is so much more difficult than waiting when you know that it’s just a matter of time.
And that brings us to the worst kind of waiting. That’s waiting till the cows come home. That’s when you’re waiting for something or someone to come along and magically change your life. There’s a fine line between having faith that your future will be better than your past and passively sitting back and waiting for your future to find you. I’m not one to wait till the cows come home and I don’t have a whole lot of patience for people who do.
But then, as I’ve said, I’m not one to wait, in general. I’m not particularly proud of this. In fact, I’m starting to see it as a real problem. I always thought that patience is something I would learn along the way as I aged. That hasn’t happened for me so far and I wonder if it ever will.
I realize that my life would be better if I could learn to wait with a certain amount of grace, if I could stop fighting it. I think of the passage from Ecclesiastes that the Byrds first introduced to me back in the days before I ever cracked open a Bible. "For everything there’s a season and a time for every purpose under heaven." There’s a time for everything, and that includes waiting. Some things truly are worth waiting for. And sometimes waiting is necessary because we’re not yet ready for what comes next. Often, there’s a purpose to our waiting, particularly when we look at it as more than just marking time until the next big thing comes along.
Here’s what Henri Nouwen says about waiting: “A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.” I really love that. And I can’t help but think that I’m missing out on something significant in my life because I’m not taking the time to wait on God.
I know I’m not dead yet. Maybe I can still learn to be at peace with patience. But am I willing to wait so that I can learn to wait?