Long Days and Short Years

just trying to pay attention so I don't miss my life

Waiting, the Most Annoying Way to Build Character

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“You have to learn to wait.”

How many times have I said this to my children?  Life, after all, is full of waiting.  Waiting in line, waiting for your turn, waiting for something to be over, waiting for something to begin.  Life is full of waiting, and so we include it in the kid-life-curriculum.  Be patient, honey.  You have to learn to wait.

But… umm… grown-ups?  Have you got this lesson down?


Part One:  Highland Ave.

The bridge is under construction.  The bridge, the main bridge, the one that connects the area of My House to the area of Places I Need to Go.  Last week, on Friday afternoon, I attempted to come home.  With tired children in the backseat, I tried the alternate route.  It was gridlocked for miles.  I had been out all afternoon.  So I tried the alternative to the alternate.  There was traffic on streets where traffic has never been before.

And there was nothing to do but sit in it.  And inch forward.  And wait.

So I waited.  “Mama, she hit me!”  “No I didn’t!”  “Yes, she did!”  “Arghargheeeee!”  I kept inching.

And waiting.

I was one mile from my house and it took me a half hour to get home.

And I did.  But…

Anyone who considers themselves a patient person should try out this situation.  Let me know how it goes for you.


Part Two: Advanced Waiting

Several of my friends are in the final weeks of pregnancy.  As I think about and pray for them, I remember what it was like to have nothing to do but wait.  Well, nothing to do and everything to do.  There are preparations  of course, seemingly endless preparations.  But there is no direct correlation between the work of preparing and the timing of the baby’s arrival.

Fix up the nursery?  Don’t fix up the nursery?  Doesn’t matter–the baby won’t come one day earlier or one day later.  You just have to wait.  Take a long walk?  Well, it’s worth a try, but there are no guarantees.  Keep waiting.  Make plans to go away for the weekend before the baby’s due date?  Well, the average for first-time birth is a week and a day after the due date, but that’s just an average.  Better be ready.  Or not.

The life-changing event is coming, but no one knows when.

If you have to learn to wait,  the last weeks of pregnancy are like getting a doctorate.


Part Three:  Waiting Well

Of course, traffic and pregnancy aren’t the only, um, opportunities to practice the skill of waiting.  We wait for the potential employer to set up the interview, and then we wait for the call.  We wait for the test results.  We wait for the house to close, for the right car to show up on Craig’s List, for the acceptance-or-rejection letter.  We wait to see how our careers will unfold or how our children will turn out.  We do what we can, but then…

The question is not ‘will we wait?’ but ‘how will we wait?’

And the problem with waiting is that it implies we are not completely in control.  Many of us do not like this one bit, and we equate waiting with being passive, and being passive with something like laziness or lack of ambition.  “I just need to work harder” we tell ourselves, “I can fix this.”  And if we can’t, like being stuck in $#@^&% traffic, our frustration with ourselves, with the situation, or with somebody-who-is-to-blame just grows and grows.

It can make us not very nice to be around.  Just ask my children.

There is a great freedom to be found in learning to wait well.  If waiting implies not being in control, then waiting well implies trust.  Like a frustrated child who looks into the eyes of a loving parent and thinks, “Okay, if she says that it’s almost my turn, it must be.  I’ll wait.”  Of course, this implies that the one running the universe is on our side, and even some of us who say we believe this get a little nervous sometimes.  The evidence, after all, is mixed.  Really beautiful and really bad things happen to us on a semi-regular basis.

If I wait, if I attempt to trust, how do I know that it will be okay?  I have no easy answer to this question.  However, I do have a good answer to this one:  If I work and worry myself into the ground, will it be okay?




One thought on “Waiting, the Most Annoying Way to Build Character

  1. Great post. Waiting for baby’s arrival IS like getting a doctorate. Now I feel smarter. 🙂

    The other thing about waiting, too, is that it forever fixes our focus on the future. Waiting is about things yet to come, not about the “now” moments of our lives. If we can fix our attention on the here and now as much as possible, it lessens the energy we spend waiting. At least in theory!

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