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White Out! Wait Out!


As I look out of the window this morning it is a complete white out. The road and gardens are under several inches of snow. Very pretty but not much fun for those neighbours I can see struggling to get their cars out to go to work. The schools are closed. Storm Emma has finally made it all the way from Siberia to Berkshire. The official advice is: stay at home, wait out the storm. We don’t usually get snow in this part of the UK. I haven’t used my snow shovel for about five years. Glad to give entertainment to our Scandinavian friends who think it is hilarious that a few inches of snow can top the news agenda and paralyse the nation.

The day before yesterday there was no snow here but there was a biting wind. It was the sort of day for a retiree to spend snuggled warmly by his laptop. Except that was the day my laptop chose to die. Nothing. Nada. Since I am as far as you can get from being an IT technician, I did the only thing I know in such circumstances. Turn the wretch off, wait and restart. Nothing. Again. Nothing. So after a number of attempts I turned if off and went for a walk in the biting wind on the ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ principle.

I came home and tried again. Nothing. I waited some more, and then quite out of the blue the cursor was dancing again and I was again in touch with www…. Don’t ask, I don’t know. After hours of waiting, my laptop and I are best friends again

Yesterday evening we had two messages that reminded us of the difficulties of waiting. One was from someone waiting for vendors to communicate and mortgages to be decided. The other was that one of our friends on the other side of the world was in the emergency room. All sorts of nasty symptoms. Worried family and friends, including us. It could be serious. For us and for those most closely involved, waiting was the only option in both situations. Nothing else to do but wait. So difficult!

Most of us have an intense dislike of waiting. We do our best to avoid it. It inconveniences us. It unsettles us. Why is it so difficult? First, because it often goes with anxiety or boredom and we don’t like either of those feelings. But isn’t it also that we hate being confronted with our own limitations? That’s what the snow has done in the UK this week. It has confronted us all with our powerlessness in the face of the elements. And illness, whether it’s our or that of those we love, confronts us with the limits of our power over our own bodies.

One of our favourite quotations is, ‘To err is human – but to really louse things up you need a computer!’ Even if you’re fairly computer savvy, there will be times in your home or office, as you shop or bank or travel when you will be told, ‘The system’s gone down. We can’t serve you immediately in the way we would like to.’ There’s nothing you can do. Sorry, you will have to wait.

To learn how to wait and even to learn how to be bored are important life skills. Trying to teach our children and grandchildren the skills of creative waiting was not/is not easy. And it gets more difficult still in a world where so much stimulus on screens is readily available. But if we don’t learn to wait when ‘the system goes down’, we will miss out on learning imaginative skills and patience and self-knowledge – and even spirituality.

The Bible has a lot to say about the connection between waiting and knowing God. The book of Psalms – a prayer resource for the people of God – is full of suggestions that God’s meaning is only to be found in the waiting. Maybe that is the greatest incentive of all for learning to wait. Worth a try, maybe!


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