catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 22 :: 2004.12.31 — 2005.01.13


The art of waiting

Several years ago my wife and I were flying on standby passes from Chicago to Seattle with a layover in Salt Lake City. We left Chicago on the earliest possible flight, hoping that we would we could catch a connecting leg before travel became busy. Alas, there were no standby seats available on the first connection, nor the second, nor the third. Every few hours we ran from one end of the airport to the other in hopes of making the next plane. All told, we would spend twelve hours in the airport before we were on our way.

I don’t think I’ve spent longer waiting for anything before in my life, at least not without the distractions of familiar surroundings. We did our best to amuse ourselves, playing Mad-Libs, reading books, eating airport food, and watching the news, but eventually we fell into complete boredom. I began to look around at my fellow travelers—those rushing frantically toward a gate, those dazed listlessly like myself, couples snuggling together, kids spinning in place, friends waiting expectantly for someone from out of town. I began to imagine the stories of what their lives were all like, where they were coming from and where they were going, whom they loved and what their biggest struggles were. I pretended I knew them all, that we were all friends in this thing together.

As the hours passed, I found I couldn’t keep up with them all. I’d look up at someone new and I couldn’t even begin to guess anything about their lives. The flock of people streaming through one airport in one day was too much for me to even pretend to get to know—and right there it struck me how enormous God’s capacity for love is. If I can manage to love only a small group of people who are largely like myself, I consider it a victory, and yet God knows each of the lives of the people in this world intimately and loves us all with equal passion. As I continued to wait I looked out over the crowds and thought when I saw each person that God loves him or her dearly. I said a little prayer for each, that they might know that love someday.

Waiting is not something I enjoy doing. I would rather not spend twelve hours in an airport ever again. But ever since that day, I find that I do some of my best praying while waiting in line. It is so hard for me to quiet myself and be still in the rush of the day, when there is always one more item to cross off the to-do list. But in line I am quiet and still already. When I’m able to set aside the insistent urge to be on the other side of the goal, when I can look at the people around me not as competitors but as brothers and sisters of the human race, as God’s loving creation—then my heart springs to prayer. I get a sense of God that’s less about him being my Lord or the Lord of creation but more about Him being Lord of all people. It is the whole of humanity that concerns him, and when I can find a sliver of that concern in my own heart, it spurs me to connect with Him.

When I was young, the idea of forever didn’t appeal to me much. I wanted to go to heaven but I was always secretly afraid that I would be bored stiff. What does one do for all eternity? Even as great as it was, wouldn’t it become mundane? But now I like the idea of forever. I like the idea of being in that airport still, but with the time and the lack of reservation to go up to each person and find out what their real story is, to spend time with them, to learn to love them, to know them as God knows them. Who knows if that is part of what heaven will be or not—but I am sure it will not be mundane. If God can fill the empty moments of life on earth with such tenderness, if the small, wasted cracks in our day can be a source of goodwill, then waiting for forever to end just might be a joy.

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