The other day I met a friend who has been away getting training in Texas for four months; he and his wife are home for the holidays. We arranged to meet at a diner for breakfast, and while I originally suggested 8:00, I thought he countered with 8:30, but he stuck with my original suggestion, which meant that he had to sit for 22 minutes waiting for me before I walked in. He’s a former co-worker and knows me very well — I’m (almost) never late! So he had almost begun to panic when I got there. Did he misunderstand the meeting location? What was wrong? He texted me after waiting ten minutes, but I hadn’t seen the text, so I hadn’t even texted him to say I was running behind. Fortunately, he decided I was worth waiting for. How long would he have waited, without hearing back from me? Half an hour? Forty minutes? There is, of course, a cultural element to this. In some corners of the world, if you waited 22 minutes, you might tell the other person, “No, I haven’t waited long, we just sat down.” Here in Indiana, at 22 minutes you’re usually starting to think there was a miscommunication, and then you’re starting to wonder whether it’s your fault, or the other person’s!
This is the time of year when children have to wait days and days. My kids are out of school, but there are a few more days of waiting for their gifts as we celebrate Christmas. Nobody says “that’s too bad”. We recognize that learning to wait, to “delay our gratification” as my Dad used to say, is a healthy thing for kids to learn. In fact, in orthodox Christianity, the entire season, four Sundays before Christmas, is called the Advent season, which basically amounts to waiting.
It occurs to me that one way to measure how important something or someone is in your life is to think about how long you would wait for them. How long are you willing to wait to attain a certain achievement? How long would you wait for an attractive date to arrive at a restaurant? At the opposite end of this scale is ambivalence and apathy. If you’re willing to wait, you’re motivated to build that relationship, business, or skill set.
But there’s another level I want to talk about here. I’m not just talking about waiting with anxiety, tapping your foot, wondering when it will get here. I’m talking about a sort of waiting that finds you calm, no matter how long the wait was. It’s a waiting that you experience with trust, the type of waiting exemplified in the classic movie “The Princess Bride.”
“My Westley will come for me. I know he will,” says Buttercup as she is practically dragged to the altar to marry a Prince she cares nothing for. Buttercup’s ability to wait comes with a level of trust that’s the stuff of legends. But this is a skill and personal discipline that can be developed!
When my wife goes out with a girlfriend, I usually expect her home around 9:30 (okay, we’re old, I know) but sometimes she doesn’t get here until 10:30 or 11. On a weeknight! (we’re so old now, seriously) but I wait patiently for several reasons. 1) I trust her. I know she isn’t out drinking and fooling around. 2) I don’t need anything from her. I enjoy her company and I’m glad when she gets home, but my waiting isn’t predicated on a need to get something for myself. 3) I know that she rarely gets flexibility in her schedule to just be a friend to the other woman she likes to go out with. They both need that time with each other, and they enjoy letting it be open-ended. So I’m not surprised when I end up waiting longer than I expected for her to get home.
So, as you think about who or what you would wait for, understand that there are some parameters to that waiting. Trust that it will come. Wait without needing. Wait generously.
Soon enough, we gather around the tree and we open our gifts, and we find that there actually is something special there for us. How much sweeter that is when we’ve waited for it!