(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. In the same way, if I'm binge-watching on Netflix, I watch the first few episodes of a season and then go to the last one. If I'm curious about how the plot arrived at its ending, I'll go back and explore what's in the middle. But cutting to the chase is often all I need to be satisfied.
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 forced 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 exercising on their wheel 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.
The real problem for me is that people aren’t machines. I can’t right-click and get them to do what I want them to do when I want them to do it. And so, I sit and wait for the doctor to give me test results. I wait for the cable guy to come to the house so I can get on the internet again. I wait for my daughter to call me back on the phone. Being human myself, I understand the limitations we all have. When I deal with other people, I have no choice but to wait. And the more people I 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.
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 a child to be born. Another is waiting for a parent 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.
Open-ended waiting is another matter entirely. That’s waiting for something that may or may not ever happen. I have 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: 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.
Waiting for social justice is in a category of its own. Waiting for the hungry to have bread. Waiting for all children to be offered dignity and love. Waiting for a time when no one is excluded from God's circle of grace. This is waiting for the inevitable, but it's not done passively. It's an active kind of waiting. I trust that God's gonna do what God's gonna do, with us or without us. But God's will is accomplished a whole lot sooner with us, and so this is an impatience that won't allow me to rest.
I've long hoped that I would learn to wait patiently as I aged. It hasn’t happened for me so far, and I wonder if it ever will. If anything, I seem to be more aware that my time is running out, which exacerbates my sense of impatience.
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. Henri Nouwen says: “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 haven't learned to wait with grace.
I know I’m not dead yet. Maybe I can still learn to be at peace with patience. But can I wait while I'm learning to wait?