The Art of Waiting

Patience is Essential in the Writing Life

This may sound like a broken record, but it seems like the number one enemy to simply sitting down and writing is the distraction of the iPhone.

It invades the reading life, too. Instead of pausing to reflect on what I’ve just read, my hand goes for the iPhone, almost like that’s the “reward” for spending a five-minute span of reading. Reading a book and retaining its meaning and beauty afterwards is hard when my mind is actually focused on getting that dopamine hit, given to me by checking email, text, LinkedIn, and Marco Polo.

Checking my phone for no reason has been an issue ever since I got a smartphone as a teenager. It was a problem even before then, since I got a Facebook as a junior high kid and had access to it on the household desktop computer.

Motivational speaker Simon Sinek put it well when he spoke of the main fault of Generation Z, claiming that we are not “entitled, but impatient.” It seems that entitlement and impatience go hand in hand, and the former certainly seems like an ongoing problem, but his point really stuck out to me, in any case. I’ve lost patience with the creative process, and with real life, because of this technology.

There is a spiritual element, here—text, email, and Marco Polo are social technologies. They offer connections to other people. It struck me the other day how little I care about checking my phone when I’m with people I enjoy being around, and who enjoy being with me. It’s when I’m stuck at home with a load of homework to do but no one to interact with that the iPhone becomes a sort of relational substitute to tide me over. And sadly, oftentimes the time spent with family and friends does not quite give me the thrill of a text message from a girl I’m interested in, or an email from a professor I admire. This technology has become the primary way I try to get my emotional needs met, but like any addiction, it leaves me less satisfied after every “dose.”

With the loss of patience in art and relationship comes the loss of joy that are inherent in those things. Writing a good story demands patience. You have to wait for a period of time before it is done, and wait longer before it is good. It is the same when you are in a relationship. It takes time, work, and above all, patience before it is a rewarding companionship. When my brain is craving another “hit,” I do not enjoy writing, reading, or having a conversation, because there is no virtue of patience to responsibly commit to them. Life tends to start revolving around my own comforts instead of loving service to others. Anything that requires extensive focus becomes a painful chore instead of a meaningful endeavor full of goodness and joy.

There was a point in college where it seemed like nothing gave me pleasure anymore—there was just pleasure for pleasure’s sake, found in social media, pornography, sugary foods, coffee, and Netflix. These were not real pleasures, but drugs used to artificially heal my emotional hunger. They gave immediate gratification as opposed to a sense of inner wellbeing. Writing did not come easy in those days. Anything that did eek out of the pen were desperate prayers for help.

The other evening, I played guitar, watched a couple episodes of The Chosen, read a few chapters of a book on relationships and biblical sexuality called Loveology, by John Mark Comer, and then just prayed in silence. Through prayer, it became obvious that my tech addiction was coming from a place of brokenness and shame, an effort to secure my own happiness apart from God. (This is traditionally what the Church has called “pride.” We try and do it all on our own, refusing to trust that God has the best intentions for us.)

Writing comes much more readily when I felt like a beloved son of God with nothing to prove. It feels impossible to write when it is something I need to do in order to be okay. How can one write confidently and joyously when the writer’s self-image is in the pits? I asked God to meet those emotional needs and resolved not to go my iPhone as an idol, and that same night, was able to deeply enjoy writing four pages of new work.

I’m grateful that God is patient, and grateful for the many mentors who have patiently intervened, time and again, to redirect my heart to the steadfast love of Christ. Apart from Christ, the striving is vain.

Peter Biles is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories. He graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois in 2019 and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications, including Plough, Dappled Things, The Gospel Coalition, Salvo, and Breaking Ground.

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