I'm not good at sitting still. Sometimes, I even experience a sense of nervousness when I do nothing -- a sense that surely, there is an item on one of my 5 "To-Do" lists that deserves my attention. I've been sporadically reading Sue Monk Kidd's When the Heart Waits. I say sporadically partially because of the current hectic pace of my life, and partially because it's not one of those books that I can dive into and finish within days, like I do most books. I like Sue Monk Kidd -- she's the author of The Mermaid Chair and the popular The Secret Life of Bees. This book, however, is not a work of fiction. It is a spiritual reflection on Kidd's journey through midlife (also why I can't fully relate to the book. I'm not ready to call 30 midlife!).
But, all that being said, I am in a bit of a holding pattern right now. I have approximately two weeks until my "due date" which means virtually nothing as far as pregnancy goes. Aidan was two weeks late -- so, I could be waddling around for another month. Gabrielle was right on time -- so I could be delivering on schedule. Then, of course, there is the fact that after 36-37 weeks, the baby is considered "full term" and could arrive at any moment. There is absolutely nothing to do but wait, which I've said I'm not that good at.
And, I'm not the only one. As Kidd reflects, we are terribly impatient as a society. Think of how many products are touted as "instant" or "fast" -- foods, software programs, digital photos. It's truly overwhleming how demanding we are. Kidd calls ours "the instant society" and she's right. We want everything to work right now or else we become impatient or even depressed. Recently, there was a discussion in the news about our dependence on instant communication. Adolescents send texts, expecting an immediate response. When a reply is not received, kids begin to feel hurt, angry, and depressed because they connect the digital delay to their self-worth or importance. An acquaintance of mine admitted that even as an adult, she experiences this. She'll send an email and wonder why no one has replied 30 minutes later. We've become increasingly ego-centric.
We've also becomeaddicted to the quick and easy, says Kidd. We've become addicted to instant gratification. This spills over into all areas of life, and our addiction to instant results sometimes comes before concern and compassion for others. Consider the classic example of road rage. For some reason, when we get behind the wheel of a car, many of us dehumanize other drivers and become enraged when another vehicle spends too much time at a green light or makes a hasty turn in front of us. We feel like champions when we reach a destination faster than our GPS predicted.
What will be the long-term effects of such impatience and such disregard for other human beings? For one, Kidd argues, we are losing our ability to sit in stillness and wait. We adopt a "quickaholic spirituality" if we adopt a spirituality at all. Many people fully expect to believe in Jesus and ta-dah! be saved without any real growth or struggle. There are certainly many other types of struggles, not just spiritual ones, that we resist. I'm starting school again. Part of me will want my students all to "get" what I introduce to them the first time. Part of them will want to "get" a high grade with minimal effort. We want instant results. Quick, easy, fast, right-now results. When we don't get those results, we'll become frustrated -- unless we keep and maintain a healthy perspective and posture of waiting.
What does waiting look like? Sometimes, it looks like we're doing nothing. Which, in our society, looks a whole lot like laziness or irresponsibility. What about those "To-Do" lists? What about the agendas, the planners, the blackberries filled with appointments and tasks? One time a businessman told Sue Monk Kidd, "I think I'd rather die than have time on my hands." Wow. Really? But, as Kidd notes, "addictions always lead to death".
Waiting can also look like repeated motion. As Aristotle says, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." Several of the world's religions have repetitive prayers -- like the Catholic rosary. To the naked eye, it can seem like the beads represent redundancy, but for the truly contemplative, the words become a mantra which brings about enlightenment and peace. This applies to the secular. If my students steadfastly apply the techniques I suggest in their compositions, they will evolve into better writers, even if they feel like they are doing the same thing over and over again.
If we can somehow ignore the insistence and urgency of modern culture, we can become more attuned to our individual promptings, those stirrings of the conscience that urge us to take action -- even the action of waiting. Even if we don't think we're very good at it.