Waiting May Not Be Easy, But is Reality of Our Lives

Waiting May Not Be Easy, But is Reality of Our Lives

Jim Stinson, Former Consultant on Older Adult Ministries


Every Thursday, a volunteer offers manicures to our residents at Wesley Heights. When this program began everyone, it seemed, wanted to be first and would find very creative reasons to be so. The desire to be first, to not have to wait, led to arguments among our residents. Most of the people arguing had nowhere else to go and would likely sit in the lounge, where the manicures are done, most of the morning having coffee and cookies anyway. In fact, the earliest ones to have manicures on any given day stay in the lounge the rest of the morning doing exactly that. But a significant number of them just did not want to wait for their turn. This led to frustration on my part.

The manicurist was coming for free to serve these people. They had no reason to feel rushed. Yet they were pushing and shoving, seemingly uncaring about their neighbors. One morning, I decided the behavior had to end and instituted a randomly selected number system. In doing so, I asked the ones arguing and shoving what was going on. Didn’t they know how fortunate they were to have someone give up so much time for them? That question opened a can of worms and caused a rethinking of what was going on.

“It seems as if all I do anymore is wait.”

“I wait for someone to take me to the doctor!” 

“I wait for someone to take me shopping!”

“I wait for my kids to call or visit!” 

“I just get tired of waiting!” 

I hear these words quite often at the United Methodist Homes, where the average age of our residents is approaching 90. People in this age group do, in fact, spend a lot of their time waiting. There is no denying that fact. Because there is no denying it, it is often difficult knowing how to respond, without sounding condescending or dismissive.

It is all too easy to say things like: “Be glad you have a reason to wait. Some people don’t have anyone or anything to wait for.”

Too easy to say: “Waiting isn’t all that bad. Just change your attitude.” All true statements and ultimately good advice, which if not heeded leads to more anger and frustration. However, it is the last piece of advice people usually want to hear. It sounds too much like they are to blame for feeling the way they do. It feels like the victim is being blamed for the victimization.

Aging does bring conditions and situations that feel like victimizing. To be helpful, those of us working with older adults who feel this way do well to remember the reality. If our lives involved waiting as much as this population does, we would likely not feel any differently.

Having asked the question and listening to the responses reminded me of an important reality. I don’t like waiting either. It allowed me to say exactly that and it allowed me to empathize with those residents. It allowed me to say, “I hate waiting too, however there is often nothing I can do about it. I find it better to relax and use the waiting time to read, to write, to think, to pray. No one is always going to be first, but I know how you feel.”

The empathy didn’t take away the waiting. It did open the way to more acceptance of the reality. And it did open some dialogue about this important aspect of so many older people’s lives.

Feel free to print or share with your congregation. © 2012 Rev. James Stinson