,Back by popular demand, our holiday series is designed to help you navigate the messiness of the holidays. Even if you read this skill last year, we believe you will see something new, something you really needed to see or hear this year that you missed last year. Please join us in making the holidays marvelous this year and always.
Most of us don’t do this very well. I know I don’t. I don’t like to wait to understand the meaning of a situation or get the big picture perspective. But things don’t always happen on my timeline.
What I have learned is that if I just wait, I will come to understand the greater purpose or meaning of events in my life that don’t go as planned.
Many years ago, I moved to another city and secured a job at a well-established psychiatric hospital. I was hired because of my extensive experience on the recommendation of my boss here, who had a friend out there, for a supervisory position over other mental health workers (non-nursing positions). I was the first person ever hired as a Clinical Supervisor from the outside as ALL of the others had risen through the ranks of that hospital. Consequently, I was not accepted or popular among the mental health workers.
That hospital had somewhat of a caste system in which nurses ate & socialized with other nurses, clinical supervisors with their “own kind”, and the same for the mental health workers. I was not accepted “into my rank” in not very subtle ways that made me question (often) why I felt so bad at work, why people didn’t seem to like me, and why no one was inviting to me. In fact, I began to eat my meals with the nurses who “took me in”, mostly because I think they saw it and felt sorry for me. If I’d had the language back then, it would certainly have been characterized as “relational bullying”; but I didn’t know any better and, not only questioned and largely blamed myself, was miserable there daily.
Wait for it…
Fast forward over 2 years. One day in graduate school, I ran into a woman who immediately knew me—calling me by name and enthusiastically greeting me. I feigned recognition and she offered that it had been quite a while since we worked together at the hospital and that she left shortly after I did. Then she took me aback: “I always thought it was just awful what they did to you!” Did to me? Who did what? I must have communicated my confusion so she went on, “Those clinical supervisors. They were so awful to you. Ostracizing you. Talking bad about you in their clique. Getting the mental health workers to shun you. They were so mean and you were always so nice and you handled it with such grace. I was afraid to speak up and felt so bad for you. I’m really sorry about that.”
I knew the universe had sent me a gift that day. Not on my timeline but eventually.
Wow. I felt incredibly validated. Not that I’d lost any sleep after leaving there, but, wow. Honestly, I did not recognize her but immediately felt as though she was an angel sent to me to make my world make sense. I knew the universe had sent me a gift that day. Not on my timeline but eventually.
Waiting is hard.
When we’re in the middle of a hardship or crisis, it can be very difficult to wait. To wait on a conclusion. To wait on confirmation. To wait to see a clear path. To wait on understanding. To wait on the meaning of something. To wait for the end of the story.
I have a favorite saying: The truth rises to the top like cream. Just wait for it. Sometimes we have to wait for the truth. I would have liked to understand the truth during that very hard year at that hospital but it wasn’t yet time. The truth didn’t come as I expected or when I felt like I needed it. Now it’s a lesson I appreciate. Last week, Amy wrote about the skill, Recalibrate Your Heart. Had I known what was going on at that time, maybe I wouldn’t have learned to wait things out, to recalibrate my heart and my actions, or to learn how to sit through hardship and trust that, some day, it would all make sense. I get it now.
The season of waiting: Advent.
In the Christian tradition, this is the season of waiting: Advent. One of the lessons of Jesus’ birth, and even His life, is that it didn’t play out as expected. No one knew exactly when and exactly how he would arrive nor the impact and legacy of the Savior Child. Advent teaches us to prepare our hearts–it is a time of waiting and preparation and faith. Not waiting passively or inactively, but preparing ourselves for what may come and being faithful and hopeful. The season of Christmas is a cultural practice of preparing and waiting.
There are times we all feel impatient and say we want to know the end of our current story of struggle. Or do we? Maybe all we really need is to get prepared. Prepare our hearts, our minds, and our lives with a faithful path. When I want to know the end of the story, I practice my skills, I recalibrate, and I do the things that I know work for me—like act with kindness and grace. And I trust that in time, the truth will rise to the top like cream. In time, we will understand the meaning of this story we’re living today. In the meantime, we will muddle on through our messy lives and Just Wait because life really is a marvelous journey.
Rhea Ann Merck, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist, persistent woman, mother of 2 amazing young women, writer, teacher, life-long learner, curious & creative human, lover of life, passionate about making life better every day…