Learning How to Wait

Waiting is hard and yet it is so fundamentally apart of human life. Ironically, it seems like so much of what we do in America is minimizing the need to wait.

Waiting is painful from the “trivial” events such as:

  • Waiting in the Wal-mart line

  • Waiting for your workout plan to actually produce results

  • Waiting for your chance to talk after being misunderstood...again

  • Waiting in traffic when your usual 10 minute ride becomes 30 minutes

To the burdensome:

  • Waiting to find the right type of milk for a fussy baby

  • Waiting for a company to call back after you’ve been unemployed for five months

  • Waiting for God to just do something because you’re tired of being stuck in a rut

When you find yourself in moments that require waiting, whether trivial or serious, what tends to happen in you? Do you experience anxiety, irritation, fear, anger, or rage? Maybe you tend to experience doubt and discouragement. Again and again, waiting reveals something that lives deep in our hearts and in our bones.

How Culture Forms Us

In an entertainment culture we are formed to desire constant stimulation.  In a technologically advanced culture we are trained to eliminate “wait time” as much as possible. The faster the better. In an activistic culture, we are being trained to want our vision of justice enacted now.

Waiting is framed often as either a necessary evil or something to get rid of at all cost. Waiting is seen as delay and delay is a type of violence against the human will. The problem with this frame is that we are minimizing the opportunities we need to learn how not to get what we want when we want it. As a parent and preschool teacher, this is one the primary task I have to teach children; learning how to relate to our wants in ways that don’t cause us to lash out in violence against people. It’s not wrong to want what you want. Simultaneously, that doesn’t mean you will get what you want, when you want.

I want to suggest two reasons why waiting is essential to our formation as human beings.

Waiting Creates Opportunities to Trust God.

I want to suggest that waiting creates precious moments to lean into trusting love. Trusting that in a moment of unmet desires, God knows and God cares. Waiting is not passivity. In this space, we are invited to own what we want and submit them to the love of God. We tend to our wants with God learning that he cares more about it than we do. Paul ask this astonishing rhetorical question in Romans 8:32. He ask, “That if he who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

Can we live into this good news? That the God revealed in Jesus is not distant nor apathetic but closer to our wants than we are. Not as a cosmic genie looking to pamper us with every selfish desire we have. Neither is Jesus a meticulous control freak who is micromanaging every event in the world. Instead, we see in Jesus that God is the one who longs to form us into a people who lives secure in his love and trust that he is at work to satisfy us and make all things new. Who can own what we want. Who can be denied or delayed. And still walk in fidelity because he who called us is faithful and good.

Waiting is an Essential Element in Learning How to Love

Waiting is the opposite of control. Paul says that love does not insist on its own way. Love is fundamentally not coercive. Love is patient. Which means that love is willing to wait. Even Jesus rejects the violence of controlling people. In the gospels, Jesus never uses force to get his way. He believed that his Father was always with him and always at work in the world. He entrusted himself and others to the love of God.

Waiting when done believing that God is love and that God cares about us and what we’re going through more than we do helps to form us into the kinds of people who can love others well.

When we learn to wait “as the beloved of God”, we’re enabled to love well. Presence, listening, patience, kindness, faithfulness, self control, and gentleness are suffocated by an anxious person who can’t control their inhibitions. If we are unable to live in the love of God, trusting in his fatherly care, we’ll be incapacitated in our ability to love others. We’ll instead be demanding, coercive, manipulative, or check out. The wait is just too burdensome.

Let us recall again that waiting is not a passive act. It’s an invitation to be present in the moment with God, even as we wait for God to act. Each mundane moment of waiting where we choose to trust in the goodness of God forms us into the “types of people who can trust God.” And this in turn forms us into the types of people who can love well. Who can carry a non-anxious presence in the midst of the most unsettling situations. We can love well because we’ve been formed by the hope that does not put us to shame.

You see, love is at the center of what it means to be a genuine human being. We were made in love, to share in love, to live in love, and to embody love. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love does not insist on its own way. Therefore, learning to wait well is essential to being a mature human.