It’s been said that motion is the great American virtue, and waiting is the ultimate un-American act.
If you doubt it, consider how you deal with checkout lines. Well, consider me as I checkout the checkout lines in my most recent trip to Uganda. I found myself with a huge cart full of supplies for an event we were holding at a local church. From the moment I put my last item in the cart and made my way toward the registers, I began calculating which would be the speediest lane. I quickly noted the number of items in each person’s cart and did my best to gauge how fast-moving or inefficient each line was likely to be. (In retrospect, fast-moving is not an adjective I would ascribed to just about any activity in Uganda but that’s another post). I chose the line I thought would move the quickest but kept a wary eye out for another line that I could switch to if I thought it would get me out quicker. I made my calculations and chose the line with only one person who had just placed their last item – a bag of fresh English peas – on the counter to be checked out. Unfortunately, since it was just a baggie with peas and tied with some string, there was no SKU and no price. A manager had to be consulted and a stock person sent on what seemed to me to be a safari-like expedition to go and find another bag of the approximate size and weight from which to price the item. I was forced to wait – impatiently at that!
There is an unwritten law when it comes to waiting in queues (lines) in Uganda. It doesn’t matter if that line is at Customs and Immigration, the airport check-in counter or the local grocery store: the other line always moves faster. There are two corollary laws as well. When you switch from one line to another, the line you left moves faster and no matter what line you are in, and the more you think about how slow the line is, the slower it gets.
I find comfort in the fact that I am not alone. The impatient nature of humans has given rise to a new filed of study known as queue management which is all about easing the strain of customers waiting in line. Mathematicians are consulted to determine which of the various line configurations like take a number or first come first serve. They’ve even considered the Ugandan favorite – the mob! Meanwhile, psychologists have explored the feelings and responses related to waiting to try an explain why, after remaining seated contentedly for the three-and-a-half hour flight from Dallas to San Francisco, passengers suddenly scramble to get in the aisle the moment the plane comes to a stop.
So what do these queue management specialist suggest to forestall our impatience? Suggestions include giving exaggerated wait time estimates; providing mirrors, magazines, and electronics to those waiting; using frequent communication to ease anxiety and uncertainty; and clustering those waiting into groups to create a sense of “community” among those who are similarly inconvenienced.
When most of think of waiting, we think of wasting time. Waiting can only be endured, not redeemed. But God’s view of waiting as expressed in Scripture is decidedly different. It speaks repeatedly of “waiting on the Lord” and “redeeming time.” We tend to think of waiting as waiting UNTIL – until the line moves, until the workday ends, until things change. For me, waiting UNTIL lends a flavor of antsy impatience and c’mons, c’mon, c’mons. Waiting seems like enduring.
So when I read repeatedly that I am to “wait on the Lord,” I generally overlay the sense of angst of waiting on slow cars, waiting on slow grocery lines – for things that are late. Could it be that when the Scriptures invite us to “wait for the LORD” (Psalm 27:14), it intends more than the knotted-up, anxious, clock-watching impatience for which I am famous (or should I say infamous)?