Waiting is difficult.
My six-year-old daughter could tell you exactly how difficult it is to wait, if you asked her. Multiple times a day, she explodes like a firecracker into whatever I am doing at the moment, demanding my full and immediate attention.
Sometimes, I can grant her request. But sometimes, she has to wait. I tell her so.
“But I just want to tell you this one thing,” she insists.
I tell her she must wait.
“But just ONE THING,” she says, scrunching up her face and her fists.
I would love to hear what she has to tell me, I reassure her, but first she must wait.
Back and forth we dance: Wait. No. Wait. No. Wait.
When the dishes are done or the sneaker is tied or I’ve spelled “antidisestablishmentarianism” yet again (that can’t really be one of their spelling words, right? Someone is pulling my leg?) I ask her what she wants to tell me. And her firecracker light is even brighter, her all-consuming need to tell me that she made up a new song or renamed her pony or can’t find her Elsa glove is even more important to her than it was two and a half minutes ago, because she had to wait.
We spend a lot of time working on waiting around these parts.
I recently instituted a new rule that my kids aren’t allowed to bang on the door when I’m in the bathroom, because I got sick of five smallish people hollering and hammering every time I step away from them for thirty seconds or so.
“But what if there’s a fire,” one of my kids asked.
“If there’s a fire, you can knock.”
“But what if there’s blood?”
“Okay, blood or fire. But that’s it.”
Predictably, the next time I closed the bathroom door, BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG.
“Is it blood or fire?” I called out. “Because if not, you’re going to have to wait.”
Then my eight-year-old volunteered: “Okay, guys,” I hear him say to his siblings. “I can totally get blood. I can do this for us.”
Apparently, my children would rather injure themselves than wait an additional seventeen seconds for my attention.
On some level, I understand: we’re not wired for waiting. And in Advent, we’re reminded that we have been waiting a Big Waiting, stretching back through time for millennia. First we waited for a Messiah. Now we’re waiting for that Messiah to show up again. We loll against the closed door, banging our fists, wondering if a little blood or fire might speed things up a bit.
We’re not good at this.
I like to think that the older I get, the more patience I have—but the available data does not support that supposition. The world is getting faster and faster and I am speeding up right along with it. (It took forty-two seconds for my computer to boot? Come on.)
Maybe waiting is uncomfortable because it feels like nothing is happening. Maybe I don’t like waiting because it underscores the fact that the world isn’t running on my timetable. But I’ve noticed that the less I have to wait, the more impatient I get—and that’s not who I want to be.
The liturgical calendar carves out space for waiting, if we let it. (The supreme irony that the Advent “season of waiting” is also the busiest season of the year isn’t lost on me.) Maybe this year I’ll finally succeed in being more intentional about shaping my life to fit the Advent call to waiting, instead of the other way around. Regardless, I know one thing: waiting isn’t going to become second nature to me, or my children, anytime soon.
And I suppose that’s the point, isn’t it, that the discipline of waiting is worth cultivating… even if we have to wait a long time to see the results.