The large Christmas tree in Macy’s department store in downtown Chicago (formerly Marshall Field’s) was lighted in a festive public ceremony on November 2, two days after Halloween and almost eight weeks before Christmas. The event made me think of an observation about Americans that Henri Nouwen made after he’d lived and taught in the United States for decades. We are not very good at waiting, Nouwen noted. In fact, most people consider waiting to be a huge waste of time. The culture says don’t just sit there—do something!

Patience is not one of our stronger characteristics. A flight delay at the airport, an unanticipated traffic jam on the freeway or a doctor’s appointment that leaves us too long in the waiting room can become an emotional and physical crisis, bringing with it stress, a racing heart and elevated blood pressure.

Our culture celebrates action, results and instant gratification. Relentless and highly sophisticated advertising convinces us that we deserve to have whatever we want now. As a result, Nouwen observed, waiting is an awful desert between where we are and where we want to be.