Waiting. We all have to do it. Most of us don’t like it — after all, we’re an impatient species by nature. (I once read an article that showed using hidden cameras how people waiting for an elevator become physically agitated after about 20 seconds of delay. Sounds embarrassingly familiar: “Maybe if I just hit the ‘Up’ button a few more dozen times the #$&@* thing will get here today sometime!”)
Fundraisers and salespeople are particularly bad at waiting — but since it’s a fact of our professional lives, the question comes up, “What should we be doing while we wait?” Today I learned a great answer from an unlikely source: the Old Testament book of Nehemiah.
Short version: Nehemiah was one of the captive Jews living in the city of Susa in what’s now Iran, back in the 5th century BC. Years earlier, some of the captives had been permitted to return to Jerusalem, which had been sacked by invading armies, and these Jews had sent word back to Nehemiah that the place was a wreck — especially the walls and the gates, which had been torn down and burned. Nehemiah was desolate at the news that his beloved city was in such disastrous and vulnerable shape, and he vowed to ask King Artaxerxes if he could go to Jerusalem (an 800 mile journey) to do something about it. Old Nehemiah was cupbearer to the King, which gave him personal access — but still, asking a favor like that was extremely risky. The timing had to be right — tick off the King and your life would be really short.
So Nehemiah did two things. First, he prayed for favor with the King. Second, while he waited he made plans. It took four long months before he finally got to ask Artaxerxes for permission — and amazingly, the King sounded favorably disposed. “How long will you be gone?” he asked. Nehemiah’s reply, recorded in Nehemiah 2:6, was simple: “I gave him a definite time.” He didn’t hem and haw — he knew precisely what he would say when the time came.
You see, while he waited four long months, Nehemiah had made his plans. He had figured out how long the project would take. The chapter goes on to show that he had even thought of the materials he would need and the special permits that would be required to get them. He didn’t wait passively — he waited expectantly. While he waited, Nehemiah worked.
The lesson for me is simple. What should I be doing while I wait? I should be planning and preparing so that, when the light finally does turn green, I’m ready to go with no delay. That way “waiting time” is productive time. A “timely” reminder from an ancient source!