Waiting, by it’s very definition, is a period of inactivity. Our ability to force something to happen ceases to exist, through the acceptance of waiting.
But waiting does not mean that nothing is changing. Take for example, the post office queue. Snaking somewhat endlessly around poles strung together with flimsy elasticated strips, the joining of the queue is a decision to wait. As the wait stretches out, the queue does at times move forward. Sometimes this is a single step, followed by a period of further waiting. Occasionally two, three, even four, steps are taken. This stage usually results in a sense that something has been achieved, yet all we have done is continue to wait. As we near the front of the queue, the wait between steps sometimes seems even longer. The ‘so near, yet so far’ adage never rings truer.
When we finally approach the desk, it is the time of action and interaction.
As the queue moves, things are changing.
It is hard to imagine that these customers, stood in their time of inactivity – waiting, are doing nothing. Some will physically do – read, look at their phones, talk. Others will simply think, ruminating over the events of the day or the week. The wait time is therefore not wasted. Change has occurred in two ways: the goal has been achieved, and progress of another kind has been made.
In the Bible those who waited, took part in a period of inactivity.
Voluntary or not, each person changed in the waiting.
The Israelites in the desert were forced to wait, and wander a desert for 40 years. What was achieved? In human terms of success and achievement, not a great deal. What was the difference between generations of Israelites? Unquantifiable.
From rebellious to obedient. From impatient to patient. From deaf to listening. From unbelieving to steadfast in faith.
Joseph was imprisoned for two years. His wait was involuntary; he had been placed there by others. He had no defined goal – he had a dream – but compared to Abraham who had heard God’s specific promise – he had an idea of what God would yet achieve, but no idea of the concrete outcome. Yet in the inactivity, he changed. He mellows (towards his brothers), matures (he actively helps others to work through their own wait period) and is moulded (into the future second in command of Egypt).
It is of course possible to queue jump. We reject the idea of waiting, and being inactive, and choose to press forwards in a time of activity. Abraham and Sarah, knowing the goal of a son through whom nations would descend, decided to achieve it through their own actions. They decided that Hagar would fulfill their promise, contrary to God’s plan.
Did this achieve the goal more quickly?
In some respects, yes. Abraham had a son.
Was this the son God promised him generations through?
The inactivity continued, and ultimately, the goal was completed as God had intended.
The changes, through queue jumping, were character forming. Sarah became jealous; Abraham had to negotiate between two competing women. The two religions descending from the two sons, continue to this day to disagree, differ and wage war.
Does waiting = waste?
It can look like it to an outsider, to someone who chooses not to wait in the queue.
But ultimately, only the person in the queue, can know the real benefit and value of the wait.
What are you waiting for?
And what are you learning?