Waiting... Everybody is waiting for something. Somebody is waiting to meet their perfect match, somebody else is waiting for biopsy results, somebody else to get their green card, somebody else to get clarity on a big decision they have to make. Even the people whose lives appear to be stable, consistent and predictable, if you dig a little, are waiting for something. Or if they are really not, this is just a lucky, or some might even say boring, snapshot in time until the shit hits with something else to wait for!
Over the years I have gotten pretty good at waiting with grace and at many times even joy and expectancy. Granted, I have never had cancer and none of my children have been abducted, but I have had my stuff and this has been no easy feat. Historically, I have been an impulsive, get it done now, results oriented kind of gal. That person who would love life to be a big vending machine and “If I just put the time, money, and work in I should get exactly what I ordered and NOW!”
In learning to wait with grace, you become a better person... a person who is not so reactive, who is calmer, who trusts more and experiences more joy as you wait. Through my own periods of high stakes waiting there was a richness in the not knowing, in leaning in and feeling vulnerable. It is this vulnerability that connects us all. We can all know what we want our outcomes to be, we can all take all the right actions, and we all don’t have control over our results and timing.
Some years back when I was pregnant with my third child, one of the tests came back that he was at risk for Down’s Syndrome and an amniocentesis was in order. The kicker was I had to wait two weeks to get the amnio and another week to get the results. And at this point I was 17 weeks pregnant. I am pretty optimistic and initially thought, “no way, that is not going to happen, my baby will be fine!” Then my head started running with the what ifs... “I never scored high risk for Downs with my older two children, now I am 39. This absolutely could happen to me. In fact, why not me?”
An old friend of mine called the things we think about all day that we can’t possibly figure out today “a chew toy.” Have you ever mulled over a decision all day? Obsessed over an ex all day? Planned how you were going to lose 20 lbs in 20 days ALL DAY? We tend to do this, mull, obsess, and chew on things that WILL NOT BE SOLVED TODAY. And if everything is good, except we are waiting on one thing, we tend to DWELL ON THAT. Why? My theory is it makes us feel like we are doing something active to get what we want and/or it gives us the illusion we have any real control over things going our way.
This situation for me... “wanting a healthy baby” would have been perfect fodder for a “chew toy” and I knew it. Then I looked at my two children, husband, career, friends, life... and thought, “I am not going to rob them, me, us of the next three weeks in a sea of anxiety. And I got out my journal. I came up with a four step process that I now use whenever I am waiting for something that is making me crazy. It has served me so well, I want to share it.
First, JOURNAL AND GET IT OUT! Here is where you brain dump unedited! You are not writing the great American novel, so we are not going for articulate and pretty. Get messy. The key is to get out everything you are feeling about your situation. In my case, I wrote about “what would I do if I got the bad news, how would I feel? Who would I call? Would I abort? Could I? What were my spiritual beliefs? Could I be a good mom to a Downs child? Did I want that life? How would it impact my other children, my marriage? What would I tell people about any of this?! Bla Bla Bla.
Second, LET YOUR FEELINGS COME. If you are angry scream and punch something. Pillows come in handy. So does going out to your car, turning up all the windows and wailing if you live in close quarters. If you are sad, cry. Curl up in fetal position, listen to sad music and let it all out. People, myself included are so resistant to giving themselves the space to really feel this kind of pain. They feel it will swallow them up and if they “go there” they won’t “come back.” This could not be further from the truth. The only way out is through and feeling the depth of your feelings is your gateway to freedom. When we can’t cry with our whole heart we can’t experience joy with our whole heart
Repressing these feelings is a prescription for depression, anxiety, acting out in the wrong place, picking up an addiction etc. I love the three As in Twelve Step Programs, Awareness, Acceptance, Action. It is s common for people to want to jump from Awareness to Action. But it is in Acceptance that we grow in our intimacy with ourselves, our God (if you have faith) and get to a centered place where we know we will be okay. Because if we can handle our feelings, we can handle anything.
Third, WORK THE SERENITY PRAYER.
God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
The courage to change the things I can.
And the wisdom to know the difference.
(and if you don't believe in God, feel free to modify)
In my situation... I could not change the test results, whether my baby had Downs, the fact that I was 39, 17 weeks along, had to subject myself and baby to amnio and had to wait 3 weeks to get the final verdict.
I could change my attitude in how I waited. I could take care of myself, be grateful for all the good things in my life, be present to enjoy the moments with my children and husband, do fun things, spend time with friends and get out of myself. I could also make some calls, do a little research, pray and make a hypothetical plan for myself if I got bad news. Whether I would execute it, didn’t matter. Just feeling the “control” of having a plan, empowers you and helps you let things go!
Working this prayer gives you the wisdom to focus on the things you can control and let go of those you can’t.
Fourth, GIVE IT OVER. For me this involves getting on my knees and writing a brief note to God. (Again this is not a novel. He already knows.) Ask him for what you want, pray boldly, but ultimately for his will to be done and the strength to carry it out. I then place this paper in my GodBox (more about God Boxes in another blog). When I do the physical act of really turning it over, it frees me up to be present and live my day. If you don’t have a faith, you can modify this step. I have gone to the beach, written one word in the sand symoblizing my trouble and watch it get washed out to see. What you are shooting for here is the act of giving it over, surrendering it.
Fifth and finally, RINSE AND REPEAT. By this I mean, you may put down your waiting “chew toy” one day and feel great only to have your head spinning about it again the next morning. Totally normal! The good news is if you do this formula it shouldn’t be quite so severe. It’s just the human inclination to pick it up again and want to figure it out.
If and when this happens, ask yourself, Is there anything I can do about this today? If there is, then take those actions. For example if you are involved in a legal case, maybe you need to call your lawyer and shoot off two emails and that’s it. Then do it and be done! The case is not going to be settled today, so take the action, put it back on the shelf and do your best to be present and enjoy your day.
A silent prayer and/or self talk always helps “Okay I have done all I can about my situation today, the rest is up to God, the universe and/or not me. Help me be present and be my best self for everyone in my life for the rest of the day and trust.” I love the “Golden Key” by Emmet Fox, (it is literally a 6 minute listen on youtube) which advises when you have any troubling situation to think about God instead. Again if you are not a God person, you can modify this. When your situation pops in your head you could say something like, “I have a plan, the universe is carrying me, I am okay in this moment.” This is like a cognitive block, where whenever you go to pick up the trouble, you immediately change the thought.
Whether you are waiting for a new job, a person to show up, a health diagnoses, clarity on an issue... and our lists go on and on... I really hope this process helps you do so with more ease and grace!