The Wisdom in Waiting


I’m not a person who likes to wait. Maybe you’re like me, maybe you’re not like me. I like things decided, things all wrapped up, nice and tidy, the edges clean, all the details taken care of. I like closure. “Holding things open for awhile” doesn’t seem to work well given my temperament.

I’ve noticed that some folks are better at waiting than others. When I sent a Christmas gift to my sister last year, she actually waited until Christmas morning to open it, although she knew it was something she really, really wanted. When she sends a gift to me, she always makes sure she writes in large letters, on the outside of the postal package: “DON’T OPEN UNTIL CHRISTMAS!” She must remember, from a long time ago, that I don’t like to wait.

In my years of working with people, I learned that some people are better at waiting than others. Some people like to hold all the options open, open, open – and open! – just in case another option presents itself. And some folks like to make up their minds and go with it. I’m in the second group, for sure. When I’m ready to check out at Target, I scan the lines, looking for the shortest one. How much stuff does the person ahead of me have in their cart? Oh no – as I’m scanning the lines, a couple of other people get into the shortest line ahead of me! Now I have to look for the shortest line, again.

Most of us, culturally, don’t like to wait, I think. We’re so accustomed to our google search coming up fast that we get frustrated if it takes a moment, if the computer hesitates in its search. Communications are getting faster and faster – how much faster can it get than text messaging? Plans for a rendezvous after work used to take hours – even days – to get on everyone’s calendar. Now, plans can be made in an instant.

We don’t seem to have more time, though, do we? As fast as communication and transportation are, we simply don’t have enough time for everything. We feel more and more rushed, all the time.

I want to suggest that there is a wisdom in waiting. To suggest this is actually counter-cultural for a fast moving people!

If we want wisdom, I think we have to wait. A life unfolds in its own time, its own pace. The infant who is crawling has to take many steps that include falling on her butt before she can take her first walking steps. As much as any child wants to grow up, the years of childhood must be lived. Each moment is another moment of creation, the ongoing creation of a human being.

I still don’t like to wait, but sometimes, waiting is the only action I can take. It helps me to think of waiting as an action. I can breathe, right down to the soles of my feet, when I’m standing in a long line. I can notice the people around me, even chat with the person behind me. I can complain about the long wait while I’m chatting!

That’s what I can do when larger things are at stake. I can breathe, I can enjoy the view, I can meet a stranger, I can savor the living of this moment, this moment, this moment, and this moment…

Sometimes, when we wait, something new, something completely unseen before, arises. Some new information arrives. Some feelings that have been buried come to the surface. Something is learned. Some part of us begins to trust more deeply.

To wait is practice, spiritual practice. Some things will never be changed, even if we charge in to change them with our most inspired plans. But if we wait, some new wisdom may emerge.

“Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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