[Tonight’s article posted first at More Than Millennial, where I am a new contributing partner.]
I’m not sure exactly when it happened. At some point in the last 50 years or so, American culture essentially lost the ability to delay gratification. Maybe it was because we were deemed a world “superpower.” (Try not to let THAT go to your head.) We put our American ingenuity to work and came up with new ways to get the things we want – bigger, faster, better. Well, maybe not always better, but bigger and faster at least.
Think about some of the most popular technological advances since the 1970’s: microwave ovens, computers, the internet, personal cell phones. They all seem to be inventions that save us from something we dread: waiting.
Now, I’m no different from the majority of folks born and raised in this part of the world. I am one of the most impatient people I know. If I have the choice between heating something up in a saucepan for five minutes versus a quick minute in the microwave (using the same plate I plan to eat from), then I’ll choose the microwave. Every time. When I mentioned to my ex-husband that I was preparing an article on the subject of waiting, his response was explosive laughter. You know, the one that goes BWAAAHHHHAAHA! “That should be a good one,” he remarked sarcastically, insinuating his first-hand knowledge of my heroic level of impatience. He would want to use an illustration other than my saucepan example. He’d have lots and lots from which to choose.
For people like me – and maybe you, too – there isn’t much worse than being told, “no,” you can’t have something you want to have or do something you want to do. “I want it, and I want it NOW!” There is one thing, though, that can really get us. It’s being told “yes, but not yet.”
You see, “no” is harsh and cold, and it leaves us feeling a bit hopeless. It hurts sometimes. But, it’s a lot like ripping off a bandage. It really stings at first, but we get over it relatively quickly. “Yes, but not yet,” though … that one is a lot more tricky. We have to sit in our discomfort – sometimes, for a pretty long time. We might prefer “no” to “yes, but not yet.” “No” seems kinder than “wait” because we don’t have to suffer as long.
I just finished five years of graduate studies (Divinity School), full-time status, while maintaining a full-time job and a part-time job, all while maintaining a family and home. I want the closure and the celebration that goes along with graduating by ceremoniously walking across-stage to receive my degree and hood while my family and friends are there in the audience to mark this very special occasion. Ideally, I would like for that to happen now. But, the process is that I have to wait.
It’s Advent season now in the Christian calendar. It’s the season of great expectation – waiting for the arrival of Jesus, the Christ, the Savior. We commemorate the birth of Jesus and the miracle of “God with us.” We also acknowledge the ongoing period of waiting for His return. Contrary to the slew of predictions you may hear from time to time about the end of the world or the return of Jesus, the fact is that we don’t know when Jesus will come back. He even said it “isn’t for us to know.” We are just supposed to wait. And be ready.
While driving through downtown this evening during commuter traffic, I was struck by the ringing of church bells. I rolled down my window so that I could hear them more clearly. “Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free. From our fears and sins release us. Let us find our rest in Thee. Israel’s Strength and Consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art; Dear Desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart.” (Charles Wesley, 1745.) Beautiful.
And as I was reminded of the joy in this great expectation, sitting at a light in the middle of heavy traffic, I didn’t mind waiting. I found rest there instead … and smiled.