The Good of Waiting

Homer Simpson once told his children, “Now we play the waiting game. . . . Ahh, the waiting game sucks. Let’s play Hungry Hungry Hippos!” And that’s pretty much how our society views waiting (as the commercial above illustrates).

To some degree, our society is right in this. As American humorist Evan Esar put it: “All things come to him who waits, but they are mostly leftovers from those who didn’t wait.”

We should be active not passive. We should not wait for life to happen. We should make things happen.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow described this powerfully in his poem, “A Psalm of Life”:

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

This is a poem about doing, acting now and not waiting. The poem, however, ends in a tantalizing way:

Let us, then, be up and doing,
with a heart for any fate;
still achieving, still pursuing,
learn to labor and to wait.

Learning to wait. It’s as if Longfellow understood that as much as we want to act, waiting is a part of life.

In fact, we wait all the time. We have to wait to get our driver’s license, to get married, to have children, to find out what job(s) we will have, to see how our children will turn out. When things change or collapse around us, a new start eventually arrives, but it often takes time.

In the Bible, waiting is not only part of life, God makes us wait. The whole Bible, in a sense, is about waiting. In the Old Testament, people are waiting for the Messiah to come. In the New Testament, people are waiting for the Messiah to return.

When Jesus went into heaven, he told His followers to wait for the Holy Spirit. Why didn’t the Holy Spirit come right away? They had to wait 10 days before the Holy Spirit came? That’s not that long, but why not right away?

These biblical facts indicate that waiting is not a necessary evil. It is good. But what good could there be? Consider:

1. Waiting builds anticipation.

When my wife leaves and goes to the store, I’m happy to see her return. However, when she goes away for a week, the anticipation of her return builds throughout the week. By the time she returns, I have a new appreciation for her and greatly anticipate her return, making our reunion all the sweeter. The waiting built the anticipation.

2. Waiting enhances enjoyment.

One thing I have done this past year is try to do fasting, purely for health not religious reasons (though I do believe in fasting for religious reasons). I tried to do at least one 24 hour fast (lunch to lunch) each week. By the time I got to the lunch that ended the fast, I was more excited than normal to sit down and enjoy the food. I felt like I was feasting because I had been fasting. Waiting enhances enjoyment.

3. Waiting builds strength.

Waiting is saying “no” to present good in order to experience something good later. When we say “no” to present good, we become stronger. We learn to live without. Pleasures have less control of us, and we become more self-controlled. When we trust that God will give us good things in the future that we don’t see now, we build more dependence on God and less dependence on things. That’s how waiting builds strength.

4. Waiting engenders gratitude.

When you move to a new place, you have to build new relationships. This takes time. As you wait, you feel lonely. During this time, you can take stock of who is currently in your life, who has been in your life, and who could be in your life. As you feel lonely, you realize how good it is to experience the blessing of love and friendship. You become grateful for what you actually have, and so waiting engenders gratitude.

5. Waiting awakens desire.

I talked to a gentleman recently who had lost his parents at a young age. This was a terrible event for him and extremely difficult. However, what it did do was make him realize what a good thing he had in his parents. This awakened his desire for community and made him more ready to embrace it wherever he could find it. The lack made him desire something all the more.

Waiting is rarely easy and sometimes extremely hard. However, it does promote virtues that enable us to grow as individuals in a way that few other things can. If we can see that waiting has good in it, then the next time we have to wait, we will be better equipped to embrace it and let it have its work. As the prophet Isaiah put it, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (40:31).


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