The art of waiting

Have you ever spent 10 hours stuck in a Mexican airport with 100 missionaries, slowly losing your sanity but delighting in the ridiculousness of it all? No? Well, neither had I. Until last week, that is. In a strange series of events, the lot of us—two bus-fulls—staggered out of our dreamy Mexican hacienda at the bracing time of 3 am, piled on our steeds, and headed off bleary-eyed into the night. We’d spent a beautiful week in preparation for various mission trips to come, but I greatly looked forward to returning to my home: a glorious land of flushable toilet paper and drinkable tap water. We reached the airport as the sun neared the horizon and settled in. Our anticipated five-hour wait was indefinitely extended with a mechanical issue. We got vouchers for free food. We walked backwards on the moving walkway. We did chair exercises. We talked to the mysterious priest (no, seminarian) after he finished his rosary. We enumerated the five (or 500) stages of airport fatigue: denial, resignation, aimless window shopping, desperate pizza hunting, delirium. In that order. Then, 23 hours after my middle-of-the-night wakeup call, I slumped into bed with a silent cry of relief. The wait was over. I was home.

You want to hear something crazy? That was the best day of my week. The day I was most myself. I had turned a corner from a stubborn sickness, and I met my newfound clarity of mind (and its subsequent decline, thanks to Stage Five) with joy. As much as that stale airport air drove me wild, the ostensibly never-ending wait turned out to be a blessed gift.

I’ve been thinking about waiting ever since. It’s an unavoidable part of life, to be sure. We wait for the day to be over. We wait for the train or the bus or the light to turn green. We sit in waiting rooms and we wait for the phone to ring and we hurry up and wait. We each experience our own particular brand of waiting, and I believe—with the help of some earnest soul-searching—that our disposition in the midst of waiting can reveal great depths. Whatever the reason for our waiting, here’s what I’m learning as I rest in it, as I hang in the balance.

Waiting teaches us virtue

Practically speaking, waiting can help us grow in patience. We can practice forgiving the friend that’s late. We can find other things to get done in the meantime. We can allow our hearts to be softened, choosing to turn to reflection or prayer instead of frustration or anxiety. Our time of waiting could mean an invitation to embrace the unknown, to admit our powerlessness, to trust in God. Or maybe it’s not quite so meaningful. Maybe it’s as mundane as listening for the dyer to be done. Even then, there’s a chance to choose, to refine our disposition to do the good.

Waiting opens us up to the world

I’ve never known this to be so true as when I lived in New York. Nothing like the (wondrous, enthralling) dregs of the subway to reveal the vastness of humanity. So much of my time I spent waiting on the platform. Sitting on a gum-specked bench, leaning against an obliging pole, swaying to music as I stood. I watched countless underground concerts, made babies laugh, gave directions to tourists. When I was alone and didn’t have my head buried in a screen or a book, I was open and ready for encounter. In waiting well, we allow ourselves to be interrupted. We can make of ourselves a gift.

Waiting is an art

I certainly fail at this often. I still mindlessly scroll through my Facebook feed, or I let myself stew, or I close myself off. But I am committed to pursuing the art of waiting, lest I wish away time that I’ll never regain. It’s an art that lets me engage with my surroundings, that leads me to forge new friendships, that gives me compassion with the suffering. It allows my hunger to grow, my longing to build, my dreams to develop. And, even when I wait to the point of delirium, it’s an art—and a gift—that points me to God.




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