by Elise Seyfried
I rarely visit the deli counter at the grocery store, and I finally figured out why. I hate to take a number and wait. My husband and children are thus deprived of their pastrami and provolone because it might, oh horrors, take five minutes for me to be served. That is five minutes of my life that could be profitably spent doing something else. (Never mind that “something else” is frequently “staring off into space trying to remember where I left my glasses, and finding them on top of my head.”)
I totally dread doctor appointments for myself and the kids. Yes, I dread them because I read all the medical horror stories on the Internet about ingrown toenails that lead to amputations, early signs of Alzheimer’s (losing glasses), etc. But the real reason I dread them? I have to wait. And wait. And wait. Because I always forget to bring a book (see early signs of Alzheimer’s), I am left to enjoy Highlights for Children or People Magazine from June 17, 2003. One time at the pediatrician’s, my son Evan and I were finally ushered into the cubicle at the very back of the office, where we waited. And waited. And waited. And finally emerged to find that everyone had gone home and the cleaning crew was vacuuming.
I’ve always been impatient. When I was a child, I was out-of-my-mind impatient to grow up. While my peers were happily amusing themselves with Chatty Cathy dolls and hopscotch, I was not-so-happily biding my time, eager for the day I could drive and vote and stop sitting at the kids’ table on Thanksgiving.
Pregnancy was a trial for me, not because I had any complications but because I wished for the gestation period of a hamster. From the positive test on, I had my due date in laser focus and willed myself to get through the endless weeks ahead. I was appalled that one measly baby took so long to make an appearance! The fact that maternity wear in those days was all kinds of hideous didn’t help. I still cringe at photos of me, a grownup, wearing huge tops with enough cutesy bows and ruffles to outfit an entire ballet class.
I’m not much better waiting for my prayers to be answered, to be honest. From the moment I mutter “Amen,” I expect the heavens to part, harps to play and The Solution to appear before me. Sometimes I’ll give God as long as a week (I’m a reasonable sort) before I start to grumble and grouse. Hello! I’m WAITING! Come on, Mr. Omnipotent, get busy! I feel like I’m taking a number (number 50 billion) at the Divine Deli Counter, and I just want to skip to the front of the line. After all, I’m praying for good things, for myself and others — a return to health, a new job, a safe trip. So what’s the hold up?
But recently I’ve started thinking a bit differently, and it’s all because of “kairos” time. The Greeks have two words for the concept of “time”: chronos and kairos. Chronos time is, no surprise, chronological time. (It’s 12:30 on Wednesday.) The definition of kairos time is more subtle. Kairos can be called the “perfect moment” for something to happen — the moment, whenever it is, in which God acts.
In chronos time, I fuss and fume when the repairman is late, when the Confirmation class straggles in well after 9 a.m. I’m trying more these days to be conscious of kairos time. Kairos time exists beyond clocks and stopwatches and my drumming fingers. I trust that God hears me exactly where I am, and values my prayers. But I also believe that God operates in kairos time and answers my prayers at just the right moment, impossible as that may be for impatient me to understand. How many times over the years have I looked back later and been grateful that I did NOT get what I prayed for? Many. And even when the “no” answer continues to be painful, I’m learning (slowly) to trust that all will be well in God’s time, if not in mine.
I believe that the dead are not far away at all, that they live on just out of our reach. I believe our departed loved ones watch over us and actively love us still. And I believe that their time is, always, kairos time. What would my life look like if I stopped dwelling on the ticking of the clock? What if I started thinking of life and afterlife as a seamless whole, with kairos moments all over the place, when one form of our existence touches the other? What if I stopped imprisoning Reality within the narrow confines of my grasp of it?
Next trip to Shop N Bag, I think I’ll take a number, grateful to be where I am, slowing down to smell the chicken salad and pickles, lucky to be able to purchase food to feed my beloved family. God grant me the serenity … to wait.
Elise Seyfried is Director of Spiritual Formation at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Oreland. She is also an actress, wife, mother of five and co-author (with husband, Steve) of 15 plays for children. She can be contacted through www.eliseseyfried.com.