For a guy who’s known more for math skill than verbal prowess, Albert Einstein has nevertheless given us some great quotes. One of my favorites is “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.”
Indeed, our perception of time varies tremendously. A pregnant woman can feel as if it takes an eternity for those nine months to conclude, yet her child grows up in the blink of an eye. Waiting five minutes on hold during a phone call seems unconscionable. But a five minute wait to see our doctor could find us smiling, “Oh, wow—already?”
I think we can all agree that life is filled with waiting. We wait for our children to learn good behavior. We wait for crops to grow, cakes to bake, trains to arrive and rain to come (or stop). We wait for someone to text us back, stoplights to turn green, new days to dawn.
And people who pray seem to know waiting more intimately than everyone else, as we wait for our prayers to be answered. Sometimes we approach God with a grand desire, other times with the anguish of a wayward loved one. Sometimes we want to be healed, rescued from financial ruin, or saved from our own foolish choices. We ask and we wait. Yes, we roll up our sleeves and do all that we can, but then… we wait.
In the last General Conference, Elder Brent H. Nielson told of waiting for a less active sister to find her testimony again (“Waiting for the Prodigal”), a wait that lasted 15 years as his family prayed, loved her, and reached out in every way they could. Many of us can identify with waits such as these, waits that stretch on for years and decades.
Sometimes a faithful member waits for the blessing of marriage or parenthood, and it never materializes. Our hearts ache for their sorrow, and we fill with admiration for their perseverance despite tribulation. Like them, we search for meaning in their wait, for wisdom and lessons we cannot see at first glance.
Occasionally we lose sight of the big, eternal picture, and expect the scales to balance during this lifetime. We find such words as “deserve,” “earned,” and “qualified” creeping into our thoughts, as if we can rightly evaluate the suffering and waiting someone has demonstrated, and the moment at which their ordeal should end, and their hearts’ desires be granted.
Most of the time we miscalculate; our time table rarely matches God’s. And yet his wisdom is always perfect, always exactly right (something we typically only grasp in retrospect).
As we petition our Father in Heaven for blessings and even miracles, we become focused upon the things we need (and need now), often exclusively dealing with our mortal probation. Our vision closes in, almost myopically, and we view this life as “the be-all and end-all” Shakespeare coined in Macbeth.
But what if we enlarge our vista? What if we open our minds beyond the scope of mortal life? I think we will see the biggest wait of all: The wait of millions—no, billions– of ancestors, for us to do their temple work.
Suddenly waiting a few extra minutes in the supermarket checkout line looks pretty trivial. These people have been waiting for centuries! And they aren’t just waiting for something that would be nice, like a traffic light turning green. They’re waiting for baptism and for the saving ordinances that can seal them to loved ones forever! What could possibly be more important?
And yet we dash around to our activities, our errands, our entertainment. We fiddle on the computer. We watch our favorite TV shows. We shop, we dine out, we enroll in classes, we go to work. And many of these pursuits are vital to our success here. But many are not. And we—myself included– don’t all manage to squeeze in some Family History time each week.
And so they wait. Talk about patience beyond anything we are asked to exert in this life. We can’t imagine the frustration they endure as they wait for us to hop off Earth’s fast track and keep the promises we made to them. “They without us should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:40) and “neither can we without our dead be made perfect” (D&C 128:15).
As Latter-day Saints, we are in the business of saving souls. The point of life is to get back home again—and to help everyone else do the same, sealed in the temple to loved ones for eternity. Yet how quickly we forget this mission, and allow other obligations to crowd it out. As if we don’t know our purpose.
There’s another example of waiting that makes our own shrink to miniscule size. It’s the waiting of our Heavenly Father and our Savior, for us to get on board and get with it. They wait for us to learn humility, compassion, obedience, diligence—and all the other traits that could make our lives happier and more productive. And they wait for us to rescue our relatives. The next time you hear the phrase, “It’s all relative,” remember how long those beyond the veil have been waiting. And that singular word, “relative.”
Watch the music video of Hilton’s song, What Makes a Woman, from her new musical, The Best Medicine (with music by Jerry Williams). Her books are available here. Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.