The Privilege of Distraction

I’m an insulin dependent gestational diabetic, which means that this stage of my pregnancy often finds me spending lots of time at the hospital for weekly non-stress tests, for more frequent ultrasounds, and for analysis of my diet and blood sugars. I don’t like the risk to the baby, but I do feel a little bit of comfort in these last weeks at having something “to do.”

The rolling of the vial, the flicking of the needle, the pricking fingertips and stabbing of my abdomen with the shot of insulin–all of it makes me feel like I’m doing something quite productive with my time rather than twiddling my fingers until the day of baby’s arrival. I am, after all, inflicting on myself a steady stream of pain that ought to be good for something.

Of course, once the diet has been tweaked, and there’s no more eating or blood-sugar checking to do for the hour, I’m left with the painful knowledge that the passage of the next eight weeks is completely out of my hands. Having all these things to do, does not actually move time, and when you’re waiting for something really good, such knowledge can fill you with outrage.

Outrage may seem like a strong word for having to wait for a baby, and yet there’s a reason we tell our children that it’s rude to keep people waiting. In the modern world, time is money, and hence, not valuing someone else’s time costs them something (and of course, if you make certain professionals wait, it may cost you something as well). To imply that someone’s time has no value is an insult to people who can put an actual dollar amount on every minute of their lives.

People of privilege are not used to waiting for anything, not our coffee, not our search results, not a boring sit in the doctor’s office–which is why one of the greatest privileges of all is the privilege of distraction. It’s a privilege to have a hand-held device with you in the john. It’s a privilege to have tvs in the corner of the post office. It’s a privilege to keep a book in your purse. Because distraction saves us from the outrage of knowing our time is being lost.

To wait with gladness is to put no price on your time, and it also means making oneself comfortable with uncertainty.

In every encounter I’ve had with true poverty, on American streets or in images of the third world,  the poor sit and wait with arms stretched out for their next meal, for a hand-out, or for medical care. To be still and wait is the vocation of the poor, which may be why we feel outraged when we are made to do it.

Waiting is a discipline most people only practice when they have to. To sit in quiet and stillness even for a few minutes each day, waiting on God, or just acknowledging the ultimate powerlessness of our lives, is terribly uncomfortable. I don’t like to acknowledge uncertainty. I don’t like to feel empty or impotent.

Only the poor live in a chronic state of uncertainty about their futures, alert to the gifts the day might bring, as their lives depend on those gifts. So when we refuse to be still and to wait–to be poor–we often close ourselves to a life of gifts.

Gifts of true value, like a baby, like the indwelling of God in our soul, we can only receive with humility and the passage of ample time as we wait for the gift, or for our souls, to mature.

I’m waiting for a baby due right around Christmas. In the past I’ve been uncertain how to observe Advent when I’m out shopping and decorating and planning, but this year seems pretty straightforward. I’ve passed off all the Christmas preparations to my husband, because I’m tired, and my body complains when it has to do more than sit for any period of time.

The outrage and impatience I feel about the state of things is incompatible with the humility required to see the Baby King. And it also just makes the time required to finish gestating this child rather unbearable.

I’m tempted to distract myself through these last months of waiting, embracing the privileges that I’ve grown to expect and enjoy, but I’m trying to spend a few minutes each day, usually in the morning, doing absolutely nothing. I want to know the blessing of poverty, to accept the cross of uncertainty, and to be alert to the gifts the day may provide.

Control is an illusion and distraction is its handmaiden. “By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust your strength lies.” (Is 30:15b)

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