Creative Waiting
Posted on August 17, 2015

I prefer taking the bus to taking the subway. You do not travel through underground tunnels on a bus. You can see out and do building-and-people watching on a bus. You retain Internet connection on your cell phone on a bus. I’ve never once spied a rat at a bus stop. Whereas it’s just as cold in the winter, I defy any bus stop in the city to be as hot as a subway landing in the middle of July or August. Not everyone agrees with me about this – but for my money, I’ll take the bus every time.

That being said, I have noticed that almost without fail, when I arrive at the corner of 49th and 2nd to catch the M15 downtown, it is pulling away from the bus stop. It really doesn’t matter what time I show up. I can be there five minutes earlier than yesterday or ten minutes later than the day before, but when I get there the bus will be just pulling away. So, I spend more time than I would choose, pretty much every day, sitting on a bench waiting for the next bus to arrive.

How do you spend time like that – the in-between time, the not-quite-yet time, the time when we merely sit and wait?

Some simply get frustrated, fussing and fuming and peering up the street or down the track every fifteen seconds to see when their next ride will arrive. But, there is another option. Most of us now possess electronic devices, particularly cell phones or iPads. When I sit waiting for the M15, people will notice that I (like so many others) often am wearing head phones. I use my waiting time (and riding time) to listen to devotionals, podcasts, and Ted Talks. In short, I try to practice creative waiting by using the time to learn. Or, if you run across me in LaGuardia or JFK waiting to board a plane, you will always find me reading a book on my iPad. I have managed to build a fairly decent library on that device, with everything from the Bible to theological books to history to biographies to serious novels to whodunits.

A friend of mine was waiting at a bus stop here in the city. Beside him was a man who was not waiting creatively, but instead anxiously. The man finally said to my friend: “Isn’t this frustrating?,” to which my friend responded: “Not anymore.” He then showed the stranger his Kindle and said: “I used to sit here counting the seconds till the bus arrived. Now I spend my morning wait with Bonhoeffer!” That may be sort of an elitist answer, but it is still an intelligent one.

How do we wait creatively, since waiting is something all of us will continue to do? How do we make the most of that time, so that our time is not wasted but instead benefits us? My suggestion is to plan for it. Design a strategy for your in-between moments. Use them to learn. Download apps on your devices that are inspiring and educational. Learn a language. Read great poetry or literature. Listen to lectures. You can download free copies of the Bible. You can get devotional material (e.g., Guideposts, The Upper Room, etc.). You can watch or listen to countless presentations at marblechurch.org. You can get books by or about religious figures. And, how about another approach to waiting time? Meditate and Pray. Too often I hear people say, “I am always in such a rush. I wish I could find time for a prayer life.” How much time do we spend in a train or subway or bus or taxi or waiting for our ride to come? God is present in those moments, which means those are moments filled with the potential for spiritual reflection and communication. “Be still and know that I am God,” we read in scripture. In our daily lives, moments of being still are forced upon us. We call that experience “waiting.” Why not do it creatively?

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