Waiting. Time. Patience. Living in the Inland Empire, one of the most congested traffic-ridden areas of the country, we are ALL experts at these things. Something I often tell myself when I get impatient is, “Just be patient and relax: God is giving me an extra ‘assignment’ here, since I clearly haven’t mastered waiting yet.” Easier said than done.
The subjects of time and patience bring to mind a great story.
Some years ago two Princeton University psychologists, John Darley and Daniel Batson, decided to conduct a study inspired by the biblical story of the Good Samaritan. They met with a group of Princeton seminarians individually, and asked each one to prepare a short, extemporaneous talk on a given biblical theme, then walk over to a nearby building to present it. Along the way to the presentation, each student ran into a man slumped in an ally, head down, eyes closed, coughing and groaning. Who would stop and help?
Darley and Batson introduced three variables into the experiment. First, before the experiment even started, they gave the students a questionnaire about why they had chosen to study theology. Did they see religion as a means for personal and spiritual fulfillment? Or were they looking for a practical tool for finding meaning in everyday life?
Then they varied the subject of the theme the students were asked to talk about. Some were asked to speak on the relevance of the professional clergy to the religious vocation. Others were given the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Finally, the instructions given by the experimenters to each student varied as well. In some of the cases, as he sent the students on their way, the experimenter would look at his watch and say, “Oh, you’re late. They were expecting you a few minutes ago, better get moving.” In other cases, he would say, “It will be a few minutes before they’re ready for you, but you might as well head over now.”
Most people predict that the students who entered the ministry to help people and those reminded of the importance of compassion by having just read the parable of the Good Samaritan will be the most likely to stop. But in fact, neither of those factors made any difference. “It is hard to think of a context in which norms concerning helping those in distress are more salient than for a person thinking about the Good Samaritan, and yet it did not significantly increase helping behavior,” Darley and Batson concluded. “Indeed, on several occasions, a seminary student going to give his talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan literally stepped over the victim as he hurried on his way.”
The only thing that really mattered was whether the student was in a rush. Of the group that was rushed, 10 percent stopped to help. Of the group who knew they had a few minutes to spare, 63 percent stopped. The words “Oh, you’re late” had the effect of making someone who was ordinarily compassionate into someone who was indifferent to suffering.[^1]
Our modern existence is one of immediacy. Instead of taking an hour to walk to a place, we now drive there in 10 minutes. Instead of communicating face to face, we email or text. Instead of preparing and sitting at a meal, we microwave and consume. Sometimes we even combine driving, talking, and eating into one ridiculous activity!
The things we do now are accelerated and compressed versions of the way people have historically done things. But in saving time we have eliminated the transitional moments; we have substituted a pedestrian pace for an Indy 500 pace, speeding past so many opportunities to connect to the people around us. Instead of becoming frustrated, wouldn’t it be nice if we could recognize the forced slow-downs as opportunities to practice gratitude, and to be in the company of an unhurried God?
I read this chapter about three weeks ago and realized I had an excellent test subject to observe on the subject of traffic, waiting, patience and stress—me! I travel for my job and spend a fair amount of time in airports, security lines, and freeway traffic. I became very introspective, examining my patience, worried thoughts, and stress levels under varying time demands. Just like the subjects in the Darley/Batson study, having hard deadlines and significant tasks drove up anxiety, and decreased my empathy. Conversely, having some confidence that I would find success in the immediate future (having a productive day, or getting home safely) reduced my overall stress and made the journey much more enjoyable. The fundamental truth that our author Tish states became my truth:
“So I practice waiting and hoping; my present reality is fundamentally oriented toward what is to come. I am on the way.”
One day I was looking at a board full of cancelled flights, translating to missed connections, and the real potential that I would not make it home until the next day. Yet this time, I noticed, I was not worried or stressed. What was so different about this day than other days? The simple answer: confidence. I knew that I wouldn’t go hungry, could even sleep in a hotel if need be. No matter what happened in the present circumstances, I had full confidence that eventually I would make my way to hearth and home. The bible uses another word for this confidence in the outcome, a belief in finding our way back to the warmth and happiness of home. HOPE. As Tish put it in the final paragraph of the chapter,
“We have hope because our Lord has promised that he is preparing a place for us. We are waiting, but we will make it home.”
[^1]: Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point, pp 163-166.