Wait Training: Examining the Virtue of Patience

Over the last holiday breaks, at Thanksgiving and Christmas, I saw more movies than I had in more than a year before that. I enjoy seeing movies on the big screen. But it’s not quite as enjoyable when I go to the movies by myself. So, when I had a movie buddy to join me, I took advantage of the situation. And I like to get to the theater early, about 30 minutes before the scheduled start time, so we can visit, and so I can see all the trailers for the upcoming movies. I discovered that I would become interested in some movies that I normally wouldn’t, because the trailer made my friend laugh. I enjoyed the sound of her laugh. I remember seeing the trailer for “Anchorman 2” and thinking it was utterly ridiculous. But she laughed. And it was a genuine, childlike kind of laugh. It infected me. The next time I saw that same trailer, I saw it through her eyes. And I actually saw the humor in it.

One of the trailers that we saw on a couple of occasions, was “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”. This is not a movie that interested me at all. I’m not really a big Ben Stiller fan anyway, and the trailer didn’t hook me. I’d never really read the story, and it looked like a story of a guy who just had a rich fantasy life. No thanks. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t watch it if I was asked to, but I wasn’t planning to.

Then Two very good friends of mine, Bryan and Shanna (a couple whose wedding I had the very good pleasure of officiating in 2008), had gone to see this very movie. And Shanna told me that she thought that I would like it. Now, Shanna knows me very well. She not only knows me…she gets me. She knows the movie scenes, songs, books, that will move me. She knows the very moment in a story where I’ll choke up and reach to dry my eyes. So when she tells me that I would like a movie, I can take her at her word.

A few days later, Rhonda, my movie buddy, told me that whenever she saw the trailer for Walter Mitty, it reminded her of me. A little puzzled by the connection, I asked her why. She said that it was because I waited till later in life to start living. Ouch. But that observation actually came from conversations we had shared. After Rhonda moved away to continue her education, I went to see the movie. And I found it poignant.

I have to admit that waiting is one skill at which I had become quite adept. As a very reflective person for all (or at least most) of my life, I wrestled with knowing when to wait, and when to act. I heard people that I respected say to pray, and wait. To trust God to act. I thought, if I acted, I was being impatient or impulsive. But, if I waited, I might be seen as lazy or disobedient.  So I waited for insight and direction. And I dealt with the internal dialogue that kept asking me if I was waiting, or simply procrastinating.

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary says that to wait means:

to stay in a place until an expected event happens, until someone arrives, until it is your turn to do something, etc.; to not do something until something else happens; or to remain in a state in which you expect or hope that something will happen soon.

And to procrastinate means:

to be slow or late about doing something that should be done : to delay doing something until a later time because you do not want to do it, because you are lazy, etc.

I have probably earned a gold medal, trophy, or at least a merit badge by now for both of these. I have developed a great deal of patience in waiting. But, I often procrastinate doing what I THINK I’m supposed to do, because I could be wrong, and may act because I have just grown tired of waiting. Not everyone will appreciate this dilemma. But some will understand full well. Am I exercising patience, faith, trust? Or am I being lazy, disobedient, avoiding responsibility, afraid to disturb the cat? Since patience is seen as a virtue, and procrastination is seen as…well, NOT at all virtuous, it would seem a good idea to get a firm grasp on the difference between the two – if a firm grasp is possible.

I probably come about my aptness for waiting somewhat naturally. My mother has always shown great patience (Well, ALMOST always – she did raise 3 kids, and spent many years keeping others in the church nursery). But I think waiting was a skill that was honed for me by circumstance. I was a middle child. Quiet. Unassuming. Often seemingly invisible. I would often sit for long stretches in the living room of our home as a child, watching a program on the television that I had little or no interest in, waiting for a commercial to come on so I could ask my father for permission to do something. Then, I often waited much longer for an answer. I learned early to believe that the wait was worth it if it ended with the desired answer. Though it more often did not. Sometimes the wait was just a waste of time.

The difference between a worthwhile wait, and a waste of time, is the result. And the results are rarely something that one can be sure of. There is a marked difference between waiting for a paycheck, that has been earned, and waiting for the results of a game you’ve bet on, or an investment you’ve made. One you have reasonable assurance that it will happen because you’ve earned it. The other, you simply hope you’ve made the right decision and it pays off.

There is waiting that causes anticipation and excitement. And waiting that causes anxiety. Some brings both. There is waiting for which you know the outcome, and waiting for which you don’t.

I have spent enough time waiting in my life that I just accept it as part of being human. From lines at the DMV to renew a driver’s license, to holiday shopping lines, to hurricane evacuations that move at a snail’s pace. From waiting in line outside a concert venue or eagerly anticipated movie sequel, to taking a child or grandchild to see the friendly white-bearded man at the mall, to waiting for a text, email, letter, or phone call, from that special someone. Waiting is just part of the journey. You just have to learn to deal with the inconvenience of waiting when necessary, circumvent the lines that bring the least reward if at all possible (I would much rather make purchases online than fight Black Friday madness, for example.), and make good use of the time spent waiting.

I have learned (and am still learning) that there is a difference between passive and active waiting. Passive waiting waits for life to happen to you. It’s praying that God will act, and then sitting back to watch the show. Let go, and let God, as some say. You may argue that prayer is not passive. And I would agree. However, I don’t think we should limit our responsibility to that of praying only. At least, in my experience, I was too often still on my knees when I should have been moving my feet. I spent too much time distrusting the inner voice, and waiting for a neon sign to point the way. I was waiting for the world to change around me, rather than to get up and be an agent of change myself. I was waiting on God to DO SOMETHING! And now…I think God was waiting on me. And despite a few of my friends who want to remind me that my heart is “desperately wicked” and can’t be trusted, I think God is whispering to me that He has placed His heart inside of me, and I should trust it.

So I actively wait for the world to change (I expectantly wait for the world to change.). I pray for wisdom and direction, pausing at times for clarity because of the weight of my decision, and then act upon my understanding. Perhaps it is because I most likely have fewer days on the horizon than in the rear-view (although my grandmother lived to be 100, and I am not quite 50) but I just don’t want to waste time. I’d rather spend it well. I’d rather spend my energy, time, and HOPE, on the things I value most. It may be necessary to first reassess the world through a different set of eyes. Then, perhaps, just as it was true for Walter Mitty, great adventures await me (and you) in the second half of life.

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