It’s been a long week. You and your pals are all ready for a night out. Everyone had to work today, so the plan is a late dinner. Since you’re investing in a nice meal-and looking to make the most of it- you have eaten nothing that day but a half a pack of those orange cheese crackers. Everyone piles into your roommate’s station wagon, and you spend about 45 leisurely minutes in rush hour traffic.
When you finally get to the restaurant, you are the chosen one, the lucky ambassador for the group. Nearly trembling with anticipation, you approach the host stand.
“How many?” he says.
“Five,” you reply.
He takes your last name, scribbles something on a clipboard, and says “Just so you know, there’s going to be about an hour wait. Is that all right?”and before you can respond, he thanks you and hands an obnoxiously large, square pager.
You look down at it, defeated. Its tiny red lights blink at you in time with your pangs of hunger. You sit, dejected, on an uncomfortable bench and mutter the unsavory outcome of your quest with shame in your voice. Your friends look at each other knowingly. Each gives you a smirk that seems to say, ‘I could’ve gotten the wait down to 15 with nothing but my charm and good looks. I should have been ambassador.”
The moral of the story? By and large, we are not a culture that particularly enjoys waiting. We are an instant society: our cars, computers, and phones irritate us at the slightest lag. Anyone who delivers a service prides themselves on being able to do so most efficiently, and they know you will take your business elsewhere if there is any dilly dally. Anything that makes you wait is outdated; lacking in innovation.
However, I know that the principles of my faith, and many other philosophies and schools of thought value waiting, stillness, patience, and contemplation. ‘Good things come to those who wait’ is so often repeated it’s trite rather than inspirational.
And while some of my experience has indeed taught me the value of waiting [the horrific reality of instant coffee, for example], I just can’t seem to get to a place where I am okay with waiting.
I frown upon the idea of waiting because I associate it with being unproductive. Standing around gazing at things, sitting Indian-style on a mountaintop repeating a mantra, queueing: as enjoyable as all these things sound, I have stuff to do. A job and a somewhat organized life are not going to fall out of the sky, after all.
But I have realized that even as I continue with my menial tasks, I am being forced to wait. Long gone are the days when I thought that a resume would get me a job, or kindness a date. It seems that the Divine has to force me to wait to teach me its value.
I can’t help but wonder: What is the difference, if any, between waiting, and not-doing? Is there a way to wait actively? How do I know when I have waited long enough? How do I know if or when my prayers have been answered?
CS Lewis wrote, “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?” In his prayer, I see not only implications for my own faith, but also a ‘practical’ idea: if we are still long enough to look for an answer, if we give ourselves time to observe and consider, an answer is somewhere before us.
It is good to work hard, but we were not meant to strive and run to the point of exhaustion, nor is it possible for us to go in every direction at once. Thinking on this seems to point me back to my motto for 2011: be here now. Living in the present is essential to learning how to wait.
I need to take enough time to see what I have, and to see how far I can get with what I have. It may not be that waiting always means standing still. Sometimes it could mean taking the time to move, bit by bit, close enough to what I need or desire to take hold of it.
Even though that makes sense on paper, I can admit it is not easy to grasp. And it will probably be difficult to remember. Maybe I’ll finally figure out the balance between waiting and action, between moving forward and being still.
Time will tell, I guess.