I think that an undeniable truth about our human condition is that it is essentially characterized by a profound difficulty with waiting. While to some extent, this may certainly be more of an American cultural phenomenon, it does seem to legitimately apply to human nature in general.
I’m sure that most of us are quite aware of this existential character flaw (whether we are willing to acknowledge it), and one’s powers of observation need not be overly astute to notice it. At the grocery store, at the gas station, at restaurants, at entertainment and sporting events, in traffic, at home, at work, in practically any conceivable situation, especially those involving a “line” or other people, we are extremely challenged in response to the necessity of waiting. We do not want to wait…but that is obvious and merely begs the question. Of course, we don’t want to wait; it is likely not often that someone actually wants to wait for something. In fact, the problem extends deeper to a level that is not so obvious and yet nevertheless is very real…beyond simply not wanting to wait, we believe that we shouldn’t have to wait. We not only find ourselves in situations where we are inconvenienced by circumstances that oppose our desires, but we rather feel that these circumstances are forcing us to do something that violate our natures as well as innate laws of the universe. We act as if waiting requires our submission to an illegitimate and unfair demand that we should not have to tolerate, or that it indicates some foundational error within the structure of the world and reality itself. We are inherently entitled to immediacy, to immediately receive or acquire whatever we want or desire, and when this does not happen we have been mistreated and are victims of a great injustice.
It would be too easy and an inexcusable over-simplification to conclude that this can all be explained via constructs such as “delayed gratification” or the demand for “immediate gratification.” Certainly these conceptions are centrally relevant here; probably no one would argue that a difficulty with waiting represents a decreased ability to control an impulse toward immediate gratification. Such an interpretation is sufficient in the domain of external factors and situational demands that require us to wait for objects or things that we desire. Another person or something is in my way, preventing me from getting what I want.
One significant aspect of this phenomenon surely involves impulse control and need gratification dynamics. “Why are you taking so long in line?!” “Move it!” “Get out of my way!” “Why do I have to deal with these other drivers, this waiter, this retail store employee, these administrative personnel, etc.?” And most importantly, “Why do I have to sit or stand here and wait for you?!” However, I think that our issues related to these dynamics are symptomatic of a core structural dynamic within our existence as human beings.
This core existential dynamic involves much more than our particular responses in external situations. It is primarily concerned with our fundamental orientation to Existence and Life itself. Our challenges with waiting transcend impulse control and need gratification issues. They ultimately represent difficulties with existential faith and trust, relating to self-actualization and self-fulfillment needs. Beneath our concrete, daily annoyances and impatience with waiting for others and material things, lies our deep frustration and despair as we wait for the realization and fulfillment of our personal dreams and visions, of our most meaningful life plans and goals. We want to be in a certain job or career field, in a special relationship with a particular person, to have or be in a certain type of family, to live and settle in a particular place, to accomplish satisfying personal goals, and to actualize our own unique self-identities.
But we don’t want to wait for the fulfillment of these idealized dreams, we want them to be completely realized right now, exactly how we have envisioned them. We place our entitled demands upon Existence and succumb to bitter resentment when it does not deliver what we believe we have been promised. I believe that we need to remember our proper relationship to Existence as finite beings before the Infinite, before Being-itself. As Frankl (2006) has asserted, we are not in a position to question or make demands of Life, but it is Life which is always questioning and making demands of us.
The dynamic of waiting is woven into the fabric of our human existence within the world. There is really no way to escape the necessity of waiting as a human being in concrete situations, and even more so regarding the actualization of the inherent potentialities within the structure of our individual existences. Existence, or Being-itself, has constituted each of us with unique potentialities, has rooted uniquely individual possibilities within our lives, and we have to trust and believe that through our own choices and decisions, they will be actualized in the fulfillment of Life’s timing. Waiting, above all, demands faith, a faith that knows nothing of divine beings, religious credos, or abstract doctrinal beliefs, but that only recognizes the courage to live an unconquerable belief in the promise of one’s own being, in the power of Existence to help us fully actualize the hidden possibilities within our beings and lives.
We must live in such a condition of faith while we wait for a fuller realization of our beloved dreams and visions, and most importantly, when the time of waiting becomes unendurable, when we struggle to believe the promise, and when we become separated from our Path, for then it is the only thing that can save us from hopelessness and despair. I currently am in such a place, knowing the promise within my being and the Path of my existence, but finding it extremely difficult to believe and remain faithful to them in the face of seemingly endless waiting for fulfillment and fuller realization. Perhaps you also are in a similar place and need an infusion of hope and a confirmation that Life has not forgotten you. I find comfort in these words of Paul Tillich (1948):
The fact that we wait for something shows that in some way we already possess it. Waiting anticipates that which is not yet real. If we wait in hope and patience, the power of that for which we wait is already effective within us…He who waits in absolute seriousness is already grasped by that for which he waits. He who waits in patience has already received the power of that for which he waits. He who waits passionately is already an active power within himself, the greatest power of transformation in personal and historical life. We are stronger when we wait than when we possess. (p. 151)
Let us become stronger through our waiting and continue to believe that the power of Existence-itself surrounds us, fills us, will not let us go, and will actualize the promised potentialities within our lives. Let us trust and have faith in Life.
Frankl, V. E. (2006). Man’s search for meaning. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Tillich, P. (1948). The shaking of the foundations. New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
— Scott Kiser