Time is such a valuable commodity. We never seem to have enough of it, do we? And we want to be in absolute control over how we spend it, don’t we? A great example of that is seen in how often we get upset over waiting in line or, even more, just waiting … period.
Rick Lawrence, in his book “Skin in the Game”, cites an article written by journalist Alex Stone, who tells the story of how executives at a Houston airport faced and then solved a cascade of passenger complaints about long waits at the baggage claim. They first decided to hire more baggage handlers, reducing wait times to an industry-beating average of eight minutes. But complaints persisted. This made no sense to the executives until they discovered that on the average, passengers took just one minute to walk to baggage claim, resulting in a hurry-up-and-wait situation.
The walk time was not a problem; the remaining seven empty minutes of staring at the baggage carousel was. So, in a burst of innovation the executives moved the arrival gates farther away from the baggage claim area. Passengers now had to walk much farther but their bags were often waiting for them when they arrived. Problem solved. The complaints dropped.
For the same article Stone interviewed MIT operations researcher Richard Larson, the world’s leading expert on waiting in lines to discover the psychology behind our waiting. What happened at the Houston airport makes for a perfect illustration. According to Larson, the length of our wait is not as important as what we’re doing while we wait. “Often the psychology of queuing is more important than the statistics of the wait itself,” said Larson.
Essentially, we tolerate “occupied time” (for example, walking to baggage claim) far better than “unoccupied time” (such as standing at the baggage carousel). Give us something to do while we wait, and the wait becomes endurable.
But there is a limit to that. I once read about a college professor who asked a question of his students about how upset they would be if they lost a bit of money. I later used this question in the classes which I taught. He put it this way: “If you had $86,400 and someone stole $10 from you, would you throw away the $86,390 you still have to try and get your $10 back? Or would you just let it go?” Every time I asked that question, every student agreed that if that happened to them, they would let it go. I then asked them the same question, only this time, the amount was $864 and they lost 10 cents. The consensus of the students was the same: Let it go.
But then I said, “You have 86,400 seconds every single day and time is much more valuable than money. You can always work for more money, but once a second passes you can never get it back. Every time someone upsets us, it probably took 10 seconds or not much more, so why do we throw away the other 86,390 seconds worrying about it or being upset.”
When we wait, it feels like unoccupied time to us. When we let other people upset us, it seems like we are throwing away time. But, as we said before, time is such a valuable commodity. We need to invest it wisely, because it is not something we can recover. We all make this mistake.
The Apostle Paul put it best when he said, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15-16). Sometimes, that investment of time is simply waiting — waiting on God, as David so beautifully put it: “Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14).
God wants you and me to make the most of our time, but sometimes that means waiting on Him. And waiting on God is never easy. It challenges each one of us to develop a new perspective on what God is doing in and around and through us while we are waiting on Him. And, of course, the ultimate goal is to trust Him and only Him completely, leaving the results in His hands!
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.