Saturday, January 15, 2011

We All Wait

In our personal lives, waiting is not a very popular pastime. . . . In fact, most of us consider waiting a waste of time. Perhaps this is because the culture in which we live is basically saying, "Get going! Do something! Show you are able to make a difference! Don't just sit there and wait!" So, for us and for many people, waiting is a dry desert between where we are and where we want to be. We do not enjoy such a place. We want to move out of it and do something worthwhile. ("The Path of Waiting," Henri Nouwen)
I think the reason most of us don't think too much about waiting is because we don't realize how much we wait. I hear Christians talk about waiting as if it's a once-in-a-lifetime event, like a solar eclipse. It's easy to identify waiting in the life of someone with an illness, or a long engagement, or a military deployment - but the fact is there is a terrible lot of waiting in the ordinary human existence. After you graduate from high school, life becomes a series of interminable periods: college semesters, eight-hour workdays, singleness, marriage, pregnancy, child raising, retirement.

These big chunks of time are periods of waiting because every day is the same; nothing exciting is happening. After three or six months we realize we haven't arrived anywhere. Every day we wake up and shoulder the same burden; every night we go to bed and contemplate picking the burden up again in the morning and carrying it through another day. We start to panic and we look for things or people to rescue us, take us to a place of love and meaning.

For example, I get this way in the afternoons at work. Even though I love my job, it's full of challenge and variety and tons of different writing opportunities, and I work with interesting, entertaining, and very kind people - right around 1:30, I want to get out of there. It's because I don't want to wait. I don't want to cross the afternoon wasteland, push through the boring or difficult parts of projects, stay awake instead of napping, bathe in the gray office lighting, have one more flippant interaction with people who all go home at the end of the day to their separate lives. The part of me that was made for better things rebels.

The point is, we all wait. And that is why Nouwen says at the beginning of his essay, "Something that has been on my mind for the past few years, and which I sense is of importance to our lives, is the spirituality of waiting."

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