Cultivating Patience (or How I Learned to Stop Hurrying and Love the Wait)

August 23, 2011

According to a study I once read, Americans spend an average of five years of their lives waiting. While I’ve never logged my waiting hours and extrapolated them to my expected lifespan to test this statistic, I can believe it. Just this morning, in my first 1.5 hours of being awake, I waited for
• my husband to get up and shut off the alarm clock
• said husband to finish in the bathroom so I could go
• the cat to finish drinking from the bathroom faucet so I could shut it off
• the dryer to stop running so I could snag a clean bra
• my computer to shut down
• a jogger crossing the street on a green light
• various stop signs and red lights
• someone to switch lanes so I could pass him
• people walking in a parking lot crosswalk
• in line at the local café to order my food
• the food to arrive
• my computer to boot up
• my friends to arrive
Even with this list, I’m sure I overlooked something, a momentary waiting period so commonplace it no longer registers in my consciousness. And granted, these waiting moments combine the voluntary and involuntary. Although some might posit that all waiting is voluntary (e.g., I could run the red light, but cutting off eight lanes of traffic from two directions seems like a crappy way to start the day).
A couple years ago, I read a book about how God answers prayer in ways we don’t expect. The author warned that we should be careful when we ask God for anything, as we might not like how He responds. An example the author provided was that if we ask for patience, He won’t wave His magic God wand and—voila!—we suddenly have patience. Instead, He sends us opportunities to be patient.
I could explain reasons why I’ve never been patient, but that’s a whole other story. And if you’ve read my other 30POV posts, you know I have Issues. Regardless of my impatience’s origin, something about the author’s description of how God answers prayers for desired characteristics made me realize—if I want to be something, I must intentionally place myself in situations where I can cultivate that type of being.
My experiment commenced. And playing Tetris on my cell phone to bide my time, or using other distractions, was prohibited. In the grocery store, I picked the longest line. Preferably one with children, people with overflowing carts, or a person arguing with the cashier. Even if I only had a pack of gum, I waited. Driving, I stayed behind the person going at or just below the speed limit, instead of buzzing past them as soon as I could. And so forth.
At first, I scoffed. “Ha! I don’t know what the big deal is. Waiting isn’t hard at all.” I fluffed up with pride at my superior feeling that I had become The World’s Most Patient Person.
That was the first day.
Subsequent days brought the four-hour wait at my doctor’s office. The two-hour traffic jam. And so forth.
“Waiting is hard!” said The Most Patient Person in the World.
Weeks passed, and something changed. Suddenly, waiting in line at the grocery store was time to think about my writing projects. Waiting in traffic was time to listen to podcasts I never had a chance to listen to. Waiting for friends was time to get caught up on reading. Doctor’s office visits were opportunities to grade a few papers. And waiting for my computer to boot up or a Website to load was time for a coffee refill or to play with the cat.
Last week, I stood in line at the bank, while the teller spent almost half an hour explaining to a customer why her check had bounced (apparently the customer was unaware banks don’t automatically cover the difference when you overdraw your account). By the time I approached the window, the teller apologized, her face frazzled. “So sorry about your wait, ma’am.”
I smiled. “It’s okay. I’m not in a hurry.”

One Response to “Cultivating Patience (or How I Learned to Stop Hurrying and Love the Wait)”

  1. Betsy Griffey says:

    You have articulated so clearly what patience can become–an opportunity. I appreciate this description and caution.

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