On waiting and why it’s so hard

Waiting is generally seen as a bad thing in our culture, isn’t it?

I mean, just look at the negative language that we tend use about it…

‘Don’t keep the customer waiting’

‘He won’t wait around forever’

‘What are we waiting for?’

The truth is I really hate waiting, and I find it incredibly hard to do. In fact, I can honestly say, and my husband would undoubtedly agree (!), that literally nothing winds me up more.

Maybe it’s just because I’m quite a task-focused, driven type of person, but to me there is nothing worse than that feeling like I’m literally ‘killing’ time, waiting to be somewhere else.

… Queuing in a line, getting stuck in traffic, someone running late to meet you, no trains or buses, then two come at once…

It’s all just so annoying!

And have you ever noticed that when you’re focused on waiting for something, time can feel so much slower?  Ten minutes waiting on a street corner can literally seem like forever! Why is that??

And why does it all bother us so much, anyway?

Because let’s face it, feeling wound up by a short wait is kind of an irrational thing…

The truth is that whether it’s waiting for something kind of trivial like in a check out queue or traffic, or that bigger, more important kind of waiting like waiting for test results or a child, it’s like we’ve all become conditioned to treat waiting as intrinsically empty and wasted time.

Like the other day my phone battery died whilst I was waiting at a pharmacy, and I felt so wound up by it. Because suddenly I wasn’t scrolling or reading or texting or shopping or responding to an email or catching up on a What’s App message… It required me to be still.

Have I really become someone who can’t just relax and do nothing for a few short minutes without growing incomprehensibly bored?  It would certainly seem that way.

And I’m not alone here either. Latest market research studies show that 32% of online consumers will start abandoning slow websites within 1- 5 seconds now, because that’s literally how low our threshold for waiting has become…

And yes, I know that waiting is boring and frustrating and ever less valued in our ‘on-demand’ world, but maybe we could turn this thing on its head and realise that waiting does still have some intrinsic value too?

If only we could learn the secret of how to wait for things well…

I hate waiting, but this year I have been slowly, reluctantly, gradually learning that sometimes waiting is necessary.

Sometimes waiting is needed.

Because sometimes it’s actually in the waiting that the really important stuff happens.

In fact, whether it’s the small, every day, mundane kind of waiting which teaches me how to slow down and be more present in the moment; or the longer-term kind of waiting for things like a house sale, a new job, or meeting the right partner, usually there’s some important purpose or learning to be found in the waiting.

Are you waiting for something significant right now and feeling a bit frustrated or down? Me too!

But what if we could actually begin to understand periods of waiting more positively, instead of as just an inconvenient delay to get past, or a hardship to be endured? I wonder how different it might feel if we were able to see the middle part of our stories, as equally necessary and important as the beginning and the end…

Well it turns out that reframing the idea of waiting as something more proactive and positive is really nothing new at all, but rather its ancient spiritual wisdom. Because whenever I open my Bible which is jam packed with references to ‘waiting eagerly’, ‘waiting confidently’, ‘waiting patiently’ and ‘being ready’,  I am reminded that waiting actually has a purpose; it’s often a learning or preparation time, a time for building deeper resilience, and for getting ready for whatever comes next.

So if you’re trying to wait patiently for something right now, but often find yourself failing at it like me, then why not quit trying to control what is out of your hands, and instead think about how you can change your heart posture towards the waiting space, from one of frustration and passivity, to one of eager anticipation and intentionality instead.

After a year of unexpected waiting in my own life this year, I am finally learning that it’s really possible. Just like an olympic athlete on the starting block, waiting to run the race of their life…

And if I, who am probably the most impatient person I know, can do … then surely so can anyone!

So if you’re waiting right now, instead of wasting time worrying about the parts of life that you can’t control or wishing you were somewhere else, why not consider these things instead:

‘What am I at risk of overlooking or missing out on right now, in the here and now, that I won’t have once the waiting is over?’ and ‘What can I learn right now in this waiting space, that might be useful preparation for the what comes next?’

As that famous Guinness advert says, ‘the best things come to those who wait.’

And I really believe that it’s true. It’s just that often you can only see it with the benefit of hindsight…

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