On Waiting

I’ve been hearing a lot of “I can’t wait!” From friends, from family, from myself. And it’s habit for most of us — it’s such a colloquial phrase that we use to convey excitement, most of us hardly think before using it. But as I’ve gotten bigger and bigger, my belly more and more pregnant, I’ve become aware of how often we say “I can’t wait” (maybe because I’m hearing it more and more?).

“How much longer do you have?”

“You hanging in there?”

“I bet you just can’t wait, can’t you?”

Pregnancy is a waiting game. From the time you find out (usually around 5-6 weeks, thanks technology) until the time you go into labor, there’s not much you CAN do besides wait. You can take your prenatal vitamins and take belly-bump pictures and go to prenatal visits and put things on a registry and organize a nursery, but in the end these are all moments in time that slip past while we do the real work of waiting. 

We have close to 40 weeks of waiting while something big and mysterious and sometimes uncomfortable and painful happens inside our bodies. Many of us don’t get 40 weeks, and many tragically don’t get the happy outcome we all say we can’t wait for. We can’t speed up pregnancy, we can’t slow it down. We just wait for the next milestone as patiently as we can, and before long and if we are lucky, we just wait for labor to begin (and to end).

So when folks ask me “I bet you just can’t wait, can’t you?” I try hard not to reply with “waiting’s about all I CAN do.” Usually I’ll reply with “I’m definitely excited!” Or “we’ll let him cook in there as long as he needs!” … That’s about as close as I get to a philosophical discussion with well-meaning strangers on the nature of waiting.

But we’re not strangers, are we, friend? We’re friends, we talk to each other about things that matter. We humor each other when we have big philosophical ideas to write about.

For instance, what does it mean when we say that we “can’t wait” for something? Think about it… Given the choice between waiting and not waiting, “can’t wait” means it’s either impossible to wait or we are simply not capable of waiting. 

Impossible? Really? What exactly about this moment in time is so intolerable that we are incapable of allowing it to run its course, so desperate to move past our current experience that we would do anything we could to “skip ahead” to some future state of being? 

When we say that we “can’t wait,” are we so preoccupied with thoughts of the future that we can’t (or maybe, won’t) imagine ourselves finding fulfillment in the present? Are we declaring ourselves incapable (maybe unwilling) to find gifts in the present rather than curses; confining ourselves to think that happiness exists only in the future instead of the present?

And if we find ourselves with this riptide sweeping below the surface of our many “I can’t wait”s, perhaps we ought to consider what it is about our present that makes it so intolerable? Maybe it’s pain that we cannot (won’t) accept, and our only recourse is to imagine a future that is better. Maybe it’s a history of disappointments and sadness that have taught us not to place too much store in the present moment (because so many of our past present moments have been the sources of so much pain). Cycles of pain and suffering that have calcified within us a habit of future-thinking.

Waiting — truly and fully waiting — is affirming that right now, exactly as it is, is worth being in. When we wait, we are “present” in this moment. Presence fundamentally says that this moment has beauty and worth and value, despite and maybe because of the discomfort and pain that comes with it.

And because “now” is always drifting into “past” and merging into “future,” waiting and saying “yes” to “now” affirms not only the constancy of that change, but is the most sincere, loving way of expressing my excitement, my readiness for the future. 

Waiting says, “yes, future, you hold possibility and hope and are full of life, and I am here, now, seeing your approach and holding myself and you together in this experience.”

Waiting is the most sublime and absolute affirmation that the future which we anticipate so fervently will soon be the now in which we live.

Saying that we “can’t wait” over and over again desensitizes us to this reality. One day or one moment or one of our dearly-anticipated experiences will come impossibly soon, and the future that we might have said we “couldn’t wait” for will be the present we are habitually incapable of living within. We will have stripped ourselves of the ability to love that new “now” with the passion we wanted because we will have forgotten what it is like to live and love any “now” — even the one we said we were so impatient for that we “couldn’t wait.”

So if our “I can’t wait”s are expressions of excitement and anticipation, perhaps we should stop saying “I can’t wait” so often. Because really, I can wait. And waiting is the most powerful way I can imagine to truly be excited for the future.

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3 Replies to “On Waiting”

  1. Language is important. Thank you for offering ways of reframing “can’t wait!” as “I’m so excited!”. It’s clearer, more precise, and more connected to the actual feeling and experience.

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    1. My thoughts exactly! I don’t want to stop people from sharing excitement, just share in mindfulness of how our language can subtly alter our worldview. Thanks for being so thoughtful (as always!)

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  2. Thank you for sharing the”secret”.
    Why did I call it a secret? That is what Paul called it in Philippians (4:12). He says he has learned the secret of contentment; being happy in the now, knowing it’s for now, and that God’s got the future planned, so no worries, just contentment. Although Paul said it was a secret, I think it is something we need to model for those around us, letting them in on the secret, and inviting them to see the hope with which God blesses us.
    Closing with a few old words, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

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