You. Just. Wait.
There you have it. If you stop reading now, you will have done yourself and the world an enormous favor.
Maybe you, like me, can quickly recall the last time someone said those words to you. I have heard that phrase so many times in my thirty years of life.
I still remember telling a guy who has no kids that it’s incredibly challenging to raise our son [now sons, and it hasn’t gotten easier!]. He was like, “you just wait until they’re in high school! It’s easy right now!” I was like…
Now I’ve written on ageism in the past, a really important topic for me; feel free to check out this post from a few months ago.
But today I’d like to zero in on general condescension, a close cousin to ageism, maybe more like an uncle or something. When we condescend, we project a smooth disdain for others, making ourselves appear superior, often stemming from a harsh criticism of their failures or mistakes.
Years ago my mother taught me that I had to laugh at ourselves, we can make others laugh. That said, when I freely admit my own foibles, I free myself from the fear of condescension. Conversely, when we condescend, we create needless enemies and mindlessly look past our own faults.
The account we have in Christian Scripture is suffuse with examples of people making foolish mistakes. A cursory peek reveals Abraham lying about his wife to Egyptians, telling them she is his sister; Moses disobeying God by striking a rock instead of speaking to it; David committing adultery then murder after desiring Bathsheba; Peter disowning the Jesus he had come to know so well-and right after promising to always follow, no matter the cost.
Indeed, if the measure of faithful Christian living is never making mistakes, then apart from Jesus himself, no biblical character holds up.
When we say, “you just wait,” what we really mean is, “it might be going well right now, but in my experience things will not always be like they are now.” And when is that not true? This is a throwaway three-word phrase that helps no one while also making others feel like they were born yesterday.
It’s spoken to kids after they come to a joyous though childlike conclusion [I’m always going to do my best!].
It’s spoken to young married couples [you just wait until your partner does x/y/z!].
It’s spoken to new parents when they celebrate how their child is cooperating [you just wait until they’re rebelling in high school!].
It’s spoken to kids as their parents get scared they will make mistakes [you just wait-life will throw you around, and I won’t always be there to pick up the pieces!].
It’s spoken to middle-aged people as they enjoy physical health [you just wait until you age catches up with you!].
It’s spoken to every demographic and at every life stage.
This phrase is toxic!
Consider this. A 70 year old man in average health says to a 5 year old girl, “you’re complaining about some aches and pains now? You just wait, your age will catch up with you!” Now let’s say the the next day the girl goes with her parents to the doctor and discovers she has an advanced stage cancer, and her pain has a cause far beyond the scope of the 70 year old’s experience.
Hopefully you see in this unusual example the vastness of room that exists for the condescending person to find themselves not only wrong for condescending, but also wrong outright in their perception. In this case, the 70 year old man was wrong both for telling her to “just wait,” but also wrong about his perception of her pain. It was greater than any pain he had experienced.
We all fail in our various ways, we all fail to see what is ahead, and we all at times fail to realize that when we celebrate a daily victory, something troubling may be looming in the future. And so often, we project our experiences on others, presuming they will live into exactly the same experiences we have had, encountering the same difficulties.
And one of the central problems here is that by saying, “you just wait,” what we are really saying is this:
“I want to bring you down to my level.”
Consider how, when the devil tempted Jesus, he so deeply desired to access his humanity-but did so by trying to subvert his divinity? He tries to access Jesus’s divinity first by asking him to turn stones into bread. He’s thinking, “you just wait Jesus, you think it’s rough now-just wait until you’re really struggling!”
Next, the devil tests Jesus’s ability to overcome nature by asking him to throw himself off a tall cliff. It’s like he’s thinking, “you just wait until people don’t believe you’re really God’s Son!
Finally, he offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if only Jesus worships him only. Maybe he’s thinking, “you just wait, Jesus, I’ll bet your plan to lead people falls apart; I’ll bet they turn on you! Why not just take this little offer? it’s so easy!” Turns out people did, in fact, turn on Jesus-and we don’t know whether or not he knew that was going to happen. It’s complicated being God and a man, depending on the Spirit for communion with the Father.
The devil is clearly looking to bring Jesus, who the Father, through the Holy Spirit, was still shaping Jesus into the divine yet human Son he was always meant to be, down to his level. He’s saying, “You just wait. Things will get nasty, Jesus, so why not listen to me and wise up a little?”
Friends, I contend that condescending to our fellow person by telling them that they should “just wait” places us in a place of pride. It’s a pride that tries to mask itself as humility [I’m just trying to help this young person see what’s ahead! I’m just speaking as someone who has seen a lot, and I’m trying to warn them!].
Now, an alternative.
Writing as a 30 year old, I get that this little post can easily be cast off as the nonsense of someone who has no life experience. Yeah, I guess I’ve only seen what I’ve seen, and I can’t fast forward the years. But I can humbly submit another way to see things.
I wonder if, as opposed to saying “you just wait,” we could get more creative. What if we tried something along the lines of, “so I know it might just be my experience, but sometimes [insert your wisdom here] happens. Who knows if it’ll work this way for you, but that was what I experienced.”
I wonder if we could trade condescension in for humility, actually admitting our failures and mistakes as we gently offer a new insight to a fellow person. To a college student stoked about her new freedom though possibly unaware of the financial challenges: “yeah, I can tell you’re excited about college. It’s a pretty awesome experience! And yet, for me, it also had its share of difficulty, especially when it came to money! I felt like I never had any! What’s your thought on the job scenario for your time at university?”
Ok, my examples are probably not winning literary prizes anytime soon. And sure, I’ll bet we could probably find a case where “you just wait” might somehow be helpful to someone out there.
But we shouldn’t spend too much time thinking about that.
It’s a lot of needless work, and it may be more helpful to invest our time into the creativity that leads us to helpfully speak into the lives of others instead of alienating them with those three unhelpful words.
Or, keep doing it. See what happens.
You. Just. Wait.