Most of us spend a lot of time in our lives waiting. Now there are others among us who also spend a significant amount of our lives planning and organizing. Those can be useful skills and important tasks to undertake, but today I am particularly thinking about the times we spend simply waiting.
This week it became all the more real to me as newscasts spoke about the start of a new school year. Some children waited expectantly for the beginning of a new school year, while others waited anxiously and with uncertainty. They may be facing a new school or a classroom without a cherished friend who moved away over the summer months. Some wait with wonderment while others wait with terror.
The same was being said about the days leading up to Hurricane Dorian reaching landfall in the Caribbean or in the southern United States. One person said the anticipation of the storm’s arrival was the hardest part: “We can deal with the results; it is the waiting that causes stress.”
These dramatic examples may cause us to forget all of the other waiting we do day by day. Waiting at a bank or ATM to get money or to pay a bill; waiting for a traffic light to change or for a long line of traffic to clear an intersection; waiting for a parcel in the mail or a phone call from a loved one overseas. Children spend days and weeks waiting for their birthday celebrations or the arrival of Christmas, while many of us as adults await such events with trepidation.
Yes, waiting is common in life. And it can be hard work.
Jesus tells a parable about bridesmaids awaiting the arrival of the groom for the start of the wedding celebration. Some of them do not have enough oil in their lamps and fall asleep, unprepared. Martha Martin, in her Lenten study book entitled Parables, Prayers and Promises, declares that this parable is about waiting, and how we wait.
“Waiting is hard, especially if we don’t know what we are waiting for. Do we wait with anxiety, or is it possible to wait with patience? … Sometimes our anxiety can keep us from the gift of the moment.”
Being enveloped by worries about what will happen and being dismayed by the many ways that we must wait in our lives, stop us from simply engaging the magic of each and every day.
As we worry about the future, and keep dwelling upon and reliving the past, we miss the many delightful moments that surround us day by day.
Efforts to plan the perfect vacation, or concerns about last-minute re-arrangements in our travels may keep us from appreciating the beauty of our surroundings, and the breath-taking experiences, in the here and now.
This summer, a friend bemoaned the fact that she had not had a vacation in four years, then she looked outside and was captured by the beauty of a sunset over her back deck. As inspiring as any vacation, I am sure.
We can be immune to the wonders around us when we only focus on the past, or endlessly worry about the future. Somehow people who love to fly to far-off destinations tolerate the long lineups at the airport to make the journey possible. People who attend the sights at Disney World or Canada’s Wonderland are patient enough to endure the extensive lineups in order to get on the most popular rides.
Life is like that. When we are clear that we have an important purpose in life, or are heading to a destination that we view as valuable, we are nourished. And blessed.
— The Rev. Dr. Bill Steadman is a part-time minister of Goulais River United Church and honorary associate of St. James Anglican Church, Goulais River.