So this week, a friend told me that she met someone at her church who likes my blogs because she thinks they are “so funny.” Uh-oh. If that’s you, can I just apologize in advance? Because what I want to write about today is seriously not funny.
I am going to write about waiting.
Which is what I did for 97 straight minutes last week. Standing up the whole time. In a line. To make an appointment. For a passport. At the post office.
See? Not funny.
Oh sure, there were some funny parts. Like, after about 20 of us had been standing there for an hour (they recommend arriving by about 7 a.m., since there are a limited number of appointments to be had and it’s first come, first served), we heard noises behind a locked door that made us think a clerk was coming. Turns out, it was the janitor. “Yesterday,” he said, pushing his mop, “was a real mess. Nobody came. I don’t know if they are gonna come today or not. So what you all are gonna need to do is just keep waiting.”
Granted, that doesn’t sound all that funny now. At the time, though (having stood there, fresh out of bed and without any coffee, for 56 minutes and counting) I thought it was kind of hilarious. Especially when the white-haired gentleman five people ahead of me looked back down the line and said, “I’m from the government. I’m here to help.”
Now, I don’t have anything against the government. Well, not the post office people, anyway. They mostly just want to sell stamps. Even the big guy who finally showed up to take names (“You people are gonna have to back this line up, now…that’s right…all the way back, behind the red line”) was just doing his job. And do it he did. All 30 of us (the line kept growing) scuttled backwards, like so many crabs. Or maybe penguins, only in reverse.
Okay, so who does that? I mean, who gets up at 6:00 in the morning and skips their coffee to go stand in line at the post office for 97 minutes, and then waddles backwards with all of the other sheep when the man with the clipboard says to Get Behind The Red Line??
Robbie wouldn’t have. He would’ve taken one look, walked out, gotten online, and paid some passport service an excess upcharge overcharge to expedite the whole process.
But not me.
For me, it was a matter of principle. I was standing in line with my Fellow Americans. If the Russians could do it (and I was pretty sure 97 minutes on a cold tile floor would be amateur hour, to them), then by golly, so could I. I would wait all day, if I had to.
There remained, however, the matter of how to pass the time. (I’m a get-‘er-done kind of gal, and when the janitor showed up with his less-than-encouraging prognosis, I started rifling through the change-of-address and hold-mail forms to see if there was anything that could be considered stationery.)
My pal Lisa says that when you have to wait, you should pray for everyone else who is waiting. So I tried that. I prayed for the college girl at the front of the line (she’d collapsed at about the 37-minute mark, announcing to nobody in particular that she was getting ready to study abroad and she didn’t mind the post office floor). I prayed for the older man who was not really from the government. I prayed for the pair of African American guys, two places ahead of me, who kept shaking their heads, like they’d been accidentally cast in a bad movie. And I prayed for my new friend, Naida, who was just ahead of me in line and who gave me her cell phone number when she finally had to leave, asking that I text her with any information that might help make her next attempt (this was her second) more successful.
And then I started praying for other people I knew. The sick. The discouraged. The destitute. All the people, in other words, that I was beginning to feel jealous of. (Like my mother, who broke her wrist on New Year’s Day and now has what seems like her entire left side wrapped in ice and pins and splints. At least she has John to bring coffee and turn on the Netflix.)
I guess I could have stood like that forever, waiting and praying behind the red line until I collapsed next to the study abroad girl, but it was finally my turn. And I was one of the lucky ones; I got an appointment. To come back later that day. (Powerball fans, eat your heart out.)
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I am an idiot, and the fact that this whole thing turned into a blog has only made a bad situation worse. That’s what I thought, too – until my phone rang as I was pulling out of the post office parking lot. It was my friend Annesley, calling to fill me in on her family’s start to 2016.
“We all picked fruits of the Spirit to pray for this year,” she said, referring to the list outlined in Galatians. “And when I did a little research on patience, I discovered that it’s not just about waiting. The Amplified Bible says–”
At that point, Annesley drove into a tunnel or something, and our conversation got cut off. I couldn’t believe it. Seriously? I had to wait to find out what patience meant?
I couldn’t. I googled Galatians 5:22-23 in the Amplified Translation. Here’s what it says:
But the fruit of the Spirit [the result of His presence within us] is love [unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Ahhh. So patience (the kind the Holy Spirit forms in us) is not just the ability to suck it up and stand there. It’s the ability to wait well. It’s how we act while waiting – what we think and say and do.
Boy, was I glad I had chosen to pray, rather than telling the clipboard guy what I really thought about his passport operation. And honestly, it could have gone either way.
I share this story not to toot my own horn (because really, I think we can all agree that Robbie’s approach to getting a passport probably makes the most sense, no matter how patriotic of a line-stander you try to be), but to give you something to do next time you find yourself having to wait. Don’t get your undies in a wad. Don’t roll your eyes. Don’t start writing thank you notes on federal forms.
Instead, take the opportunity to pray. It’s not something we make a lot of time for, these days. But waiting happens to all of us, and if we step back and see the unexpected gift of time as an opportunity instead of a burden, everything changes. We get to slip our hand into the Almighty’s, partnering with him to accomplish his good purposes on earth.
Which, when you stop to think about it, is a mighty fine way to spend 97 minutes.
(And P.S., I am happy to report that Naida texted me yesterday to say that she had gotten her passport, after only three tries. Is this a great country, or what?)