Patients and patience.

I cringe at the idea of being late to things—to parties, to appointments, to dinner with friends. There’s just something for me about being prompt and on time that I believe shows responsibility and respect. Even though sometimes there are situations which prevent my punctuality, if someone has set aside a certain time at which they are expecting me to arrive, I try hard to make sure that I am there on time (if not early—not too early, as that can be a totally different issue altogether…).

I also dislike being late to a scheduled event like a movie or a concert or a church service. Beyond hoping to not disturb someone else’s experience by sneaking in after something has already begun, I don’t like the idea of potentially missing out on something. I’ve done this with movies where the entire premise of the film has been set in the first five minutes and I come in six minutes late. I spend the remaining one hundred and eighteen minutes trying to figure out what’s going on. It’s a first-world problem, but a problem, nonetheless.

The main thing to which I dislike being late is an appointment. Knowing that someone has a set schedule and that I have been allotted a certain piece of that time is something that I try to respect. Generally, appointments work out as planned—I show up on time, I am greeted on time, the appointment lasts the appropriate amount of time, and I am out on time so that I can move on with my day.

However, when it comes to appointments with doctors, my “on time” is rarely their “on time.” Invariably, I seem to often be kept waiting far longer than expected. If my appointment is for one o’clock, I show up at noon fifty and I am called from the waiting room at one twenty. While the waiting can be frustrating (and I often wish I could reverse bill them for my time), I try to frame it with the idea that I don’t really know what has happened to prevent them from being on time. While it could be because they were updating their Facebook status and eating a doughnut, it could also be that they were performing an emergency tracheotomy on an asthmatic five year old. I don’t know. Even though I have expectations, life is unpredictable and expectations don’t always become reality.

So, during this time of waiting as the doctor treats other patients, I find myself having to embrace and exercise personal patience. Sometimes it isn’t easy. Sometimes I just don’t want to be there or I have other things that I need to take care of. Sometimes I feel stuck and helpless and frustrated. But if I allow myself to get swept up in the current of such things, and I don’t stay afloat in my safety boat of patience, I drown in a river of anger and annoyance. That’s not good.

But I’ve found the real secret to having patience: I simply have to find something to do in the meantime.

I could wallow and stew in restless irritation, which only seems to compound itself as the more frustrated I get, the more I become further agitated and edgy. Or, I can instead use that time in a more sensible way. For me, as a man of faith, I like to fill that time in conversation with God. I share how grateful I am for the blessings in my life; I voice my appreciation for his creativity and kindness; and I acknowledge just how thankful I am for his long-suffering and patience toward me. I believe this to be a very productive way to reorient my mind and heart and to pour perspective into my situation. Even though others might not share my same faith, and though my way of finding something to do in the meantime might not be the same for them, it’s important that they pursue something healthy and constructive in their meantime.

In his book, Of Mice and Men, author John Steinbeck paraphrased poet Robert Burns when he said, “Even the best-laid plans of mice and men oft(en) go astray.” Simply said, we are unable to map out all aspects of our lives and things change. We can make appointments and plans, but we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Things happen that interrupt our outlined schedules—what do we do in the meantime? Accidents happen, unforeseen circumstances arise, delays occur—what do we do in the meantime?

You might be out of work, eagerly awaiting a new job as nothing seems to be presenting itself—what do you do in the meantime? Or you might be waiting for important test results that could possibly change the course of your future—what do you do in the meantime? Perhaps you’re going through a time of struggle, be it in a strained relationship or fighting a destructive personal habit—what do you do in the meantime?

Find something to do. Don’t simply sedate yourself by filling your time with meaningless distractions (although the occasional frivolous moments can be good medicine). Instead, wisely use those times of waiting as opportunities to focus on positive, productive things. Not only will they help take your mind off of the situation, but you’ll have something to show for it at the end. Don’t be consumed by frustration and anxiety—it’s a senseless, ugly battle. Be expectantly hopeful, yet also open to the possibility that resolve could either come within five minutes or five years. Certainly don’t minimize the importance of whatever it it is that you are waiting for, but also don’t rob yourself of time that could otherwise be used in greater ways.

Whether it’s in a waiting room, a hospital room, your living room, or the room of your own mind, remember that patience is a virtue easily achieved by simply finding something (positive and useful) to do in the meantime.

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