The Art of Waiting


The Art of Waiting

As a general rule of thumb, we as a society hate waiting. We long for now—but we live in a world of—not yet. What is it about waiting that drives us crazy? What can we do to lessen anxiety that waiting can bring at different stages of life? How can waiting be turned into an opportunity to practice mindfulness and reflection that will positively impact our natural drive to be in control?


Problems with waiting (why do I feel so terrible when I have to wait?)

Waiting manifests in many ways. You get stuck in a traffic jam and just the lack of movement can be infuriating. Your teenage son or daughter told you they would run into the convenience store, “Real quick, just wait here.” Or you call a company about a bill and you’re stuck listening to the “waiting music” or pushing “1 for this” and “2 for that.” Have you ever had this happen when you call? Somebody picks up the phone and they say, “Do you mind if I put you on hold?” It’s really a rhetorical question. They don’t want you to answer can’t say, “No.”

One of the reasons we don’t like waiting is that waiting is a reminder that “I’m not in control.”

Another example: the doctor's office. They have a whole room devoted to waiting. It’s called the “waiting room.” Nobody volunteers to go to the waiting room. The one person you never see in the doctor’s waiting room is the doctor. Imagine if the tables were turned. Imagine if when you arrive to a doctor's appointment, the receptionist says, “You go to this office, get some work done, feel free to answer some emails, and when you’re ready, we’ll send the doctor in. She’ll be waiting in the waiting room for you.”  We never hear it this way because one of the hidden rules of waiting is, the less important person waits on the more important person.

Waiting makes us feel less important—and we don’t know how long we’re going to have to wait. So we’ve established waiting makes us feel out of control and less important.

Think about the signs in line at an amusement park, “2 hour wait from this point,” wouldn’t it be great if life had these waiting signs? “From this point—six months until you find a spouse.” Or, “From this point--four years until your kids grow up.” Or, “From this point-- 10 years until you win the lottery.”  

Another problem with waiting: it’s not just that we don’t know when “now” is going to come, the problem is “now” may never come. We may live in "not yet" for the rest of our lives—and it drives us crazy.

And lastly, sometimes when we do get what we’ve so desperately waited for, it can leave us feeling dissatisfied, wanting more, wanting a different version, wanting the one the neighbor has, etc. The human condition is to want more, or feel like there is something better out there. Waiting can leave us feeling empty because we’ve been waiting and waiting for the next best thing, meanwhile missing the value of what we have now. Bono, from the popular rock band U2, gives voice to this his song, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” The danger of these attitudes toward waiting is that it can be a heartbreaking game to let what you’re waiting for, become what you’re counting on.

So we’ve established waiting makes us…

Feel out of control

Feel unimportant

Fear never getting what we want

Fear never being fully satisfied


Action sometimes outweighs waiting (why you should not use waiting as an excuse)

Now the flipside to waiting... there are certain circumstances where waiting really has nothing to do with the situation. Being passive, apathetic, or slow to act can be characteristic of some situations (taxes) or individuals. There is a balancing act here. How much waiting is the right amount? How do I know I’ve waiting long enough? Depending on the decisions (I don’t mean, “what will I eat for lunch today?”), it is extremely beneficial to consult with outside voices to make a swift decision. Some of these can be:

1. Wisdom, gut instinct, collaboration, and relationships with trusted individuals (mentors, leaders, counselors) to ask the real and practical questions. Wise waiting is not about automatically assuming that passive inaction is the correct road. Waiting does not remove the need for wisdom and decision-making. It just puts them in the context of commitment to collaboration and gathering the right information to make the right decision.


The simple act of a “pause and wait” for a moment can sometimes make all the difference in what otherwise could have been an impulsive and mindless decision with very little growth or character development for the future. If you find yourself saying any of these phrases to yourself or a trusted friend, “wait a minute,” “let me think about that,” “hold on,” you are already light-years ahead of most of our hurried western world, in that you are intentionally pausing.


People who study waiting (yes, there are people who do) say there are actually times when we like to wait…when we prefer waiting.  George Loewenstein, Professor of Economics and Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University and director of the Center for Behavioral Decision Research, wrote Anticipation and the Valuation of Delayed Consumption. His research found that people who have a high desire to be kissed by their favorite celebrity would actually pay more for this depending on the wait time. It turns out people will actually pay more money to receive that kiss three days in the future rather than receive it right now, today. Seems that people think, “If I get it right now, today, I’ll miss the joy of anticipation, of imagining, savoring, picturing, and getting to look forward to it.” People want the joy of a big moment, but they want all the moments that lead up to the big moment. We love to anticipate. However, it is a fine balance-- the research all states that people don’t want to wait too long. Waiting too long for a celebrity kiss will result in a wrinkled, aged, saggy and flabby celebrity—and then the joy goes out!


Waiting has very little to do with what we are waiting for, but instead, our potential for growth while we wait. The pause, the mindful moments, the collaboration... all these practices in waiting can lead to growth in the individual. The simple act of collaboration when having to wait is an act of humility and expression of a need for help. This in and of itself is progress for those seeking counseling or support.


As you look ahead into the new year and consider making life changes, practice changes, and routines changes, you may feel out of control, you may feel unimportant, you may feel like you have to wait on what you think you want or what you need. You may be in long return lines or lines at the gym waiting for equipment to open up from all the people suddenly interested in getting fit; instead of fighting it, be mindful in the moment. Choose to be mindful and use the “wait” as a reminder that “I’m not in control of the world, and that’s a really good thing.” What happens within you while you are waiting, may be of more value than that for which you are waiting.

Written by: Dan Hall has a Bachelor of Arts in Education and a Masters of Divinity. With over 25 years of ministry experience, Dan has served as a Pastor, Church Planter, Transitional Leader, Mentor, and Coach. Follow more of his writing at his online blog, Voce.

Photo credit: Wil Stewart on Unsplash