I’m not very good at waiting. In grocery-store check-out lines I always look for the shortest one. I have been impatient at Chik-fil-A, the fastest fast food in the west. When picking up my kiddos from school I start checking my clock two minutes after the bell rings.
When I have to wait, I am reminded that I’m not in charge. Even so, my first reaction is to ask, “What can I do to fix this? How can I be more productive than just standing/sitting/lying here, letting this happen?”
I have made daring lane changes in a traffic jam. Popped cookies into the oven before it’s preheated. Chewed out the people who double booked my appointment slot. Hm. Even for pesky first-world problems impatience is risky business. At times springing into action can really hurt people and sabotage things.
The tension between desperate action and expectant waiting is at the heart of my new novel, Afloat, but my characters have more than a potential fender bender on the line. They need real wisdom about what to do—or not to do, to survive their life-threatening situation on a drowning, toxic island.
Businessman Tony Dean wants to build a raft and get out of Dodge, even though the escape itself might be life-threatening. The trick is, he needs architect Vance Nolan’s help. And Vance believes everyone should stay put and wait for rescue, even though they don’t know if rescue is possible.
Stay put and wait? What kind of hero talk is that? It’s not very courageous, not very manly, and certainly not very exciting. Vance has good reason to take a stand, but when everyone begins to abandon him, he begins to question his own history and wisdom. He asks his friend Zeke:
“Should I be helping them? If I helped them build that raft we could have it done in a few hours maybe. They could go tomorrow.”
“And would that choice bring you peace?”
“I’d feel the way I do when a see a man walk out onto a high-rise girder without a safety harness.”
“So for now at least, you know you’re doing what you must do.”
“Is it enough?”
“Is it enough? That’s the question of a man who thinks that waiting is the weaker activity. But patience requires the strength of Hercules.”
Last week I talked about how highly I value choices—in the real world and in my stories—that lead to light and life. If only all choices were equally clear. Vance doesn’t have any guarantees that patience will save lives. In fact, he’s about to learn that the path to life sometimes meanders through the valley of the shadow of death. And he’s not in charge at all.
Someone else is.
What does forced patience teach you about yourself and about this world?