A few months back, I was at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) renewing the registration on our mini-van. I am going to guess that brings up some anxiety or at least frustration for more than half of you reading this. It does for me too. In fact, when I went to begin the process and walked into a full house, I almost walked out and chanced getting a ticket because I hear so many people talk about how terrible it is to sit there and wait. But I did it anyway. I took a number 476 (they were on 432, or something like that) and sat down to wait thinking, “I could pass the time checking email or reading on my phone.” The thing is, I was only able to do that part of the time because an interesting thing happened.
Before I get to that let me just say, I am not recommending going and hanging out in places like the DMV that you don’t need to go to. I am not suggesting that you submit yourself to unnecessary frustration or stress. In the culture I am surrounded by, it tends to be the case that people (including me) work very hard to remove any stress or anxiety, at times removing the opportunity to learn something or grow in some way.
You see the truth is, it was the last week of the month so of course the DMV would be busy. I had waited and if I waited any longer I would run the risk of being pulled over and dealing with the hassle of a ticket – well actually it was my wife’s van so she would endure the trouble…
I had to start here to gain anything. I had to think through what was the less frustrating situation. The truth is, it had been a long time since I sat at the DMV so I really had no gauge for how much I would hate it. I only thought I would. So it was worth sitting and seeing what would happen.
As I said, I pulled out my phone and began reading. First my daily Bible reading, then a blog I had seen earlier that morning, then some emails, and I responded to a few. As I sat though, I watched people get up as their number was called and other people, like me, look at their number to see how much longer.
How long could this take? But in the middle of it all, I observed some people too. People that made me think about things in my life and about things I appreciate. Thoughts that I could have had a lot of places but I because I had chosen to stay, I was having them here.
Behind me and a little to my left sat a girl and her dad. I had noticed them but hadn’t paid much attention. Because I am a dad too, I noticed that the dad had gotten up to go ask a question. While he was gone, another man came down the aisle seeing the open seat. I was about ready to jump in and help the little girl tell him that seat was taken, but I was too late. “My dad’s sitting there,” she informed the stranger. “Oh, he is?” came the reply. “Yes!” she said confidently. I smiled and thought about how I would be proud of my kid holding my seat, not letting a stranger sit by them and about how I imagine that parent probably had a good conversation with that little girl for her to have that confidence and know to tell someone not to sit down. It made me think about how all the time I am investing in my kids is not wasted. I may not always see the fruit of what my wife and I are teaching them, but someone will.
I also noticed an older couple there together. I have no idea how old or how long they had been married, but I noticed that they did not seem to be too worried about how long it was taking. They were simply enjoying each other’s company and talking about who knows what back home. Maybe they were talking about which plants needed watering when they got back home, or if they locked the gate or what their grandkids are up to. Whatever their conversation, it seemed that they enjoyed just being together. They were not frustrated or stressed to be spending that afternoon together at the DMV and it got me thinking…
I thought about what it takes to be happily married for a long time. I wondered if they had been through hard things and made it; if they reminisced about how amazing it was that they were still together but how thankful they are that they did those hard things. I thought about what things I am doing well to care for my wife and what things I need to work on or start doing.
Did sitting at the DMV make me think those things? No, but it gave me the space to think about them because I decided to stay and not to be distracted by the frustration and anxiety it could have caused.
Finally, I noticed a man that was getting his renewal or registering a new vehicle at the counter. He was having a pleasant exchange with the lady behind the counter until he realized he had forgotten something. He didn’t get belligerent or upset, but he got very sad. I could tell because his head dropped and a frown formed as he thought about the weight of waiting again in those steel seats for his new number to be called, by now maybe in the 500’s. I noticed because I had felt that same thing a couple of times, maybe at the DMV or maybe at a grocery store. A time when I thought I was finished and figured out I needed to go get something I had forgotten. Then something changed. The lady had told him if he went and got what he needed from the car, he could simply come back to her window and, even if someone was there, she would help him finish his transaction. On one hand, this could have been frustrating thinking about how that meant it would take longer to get to my number because he was cutting back in line. But instead, I understood because this had happened to me and I knew the relief that came when I was told I was not going to have to wait another hour but rather could complete my transaction and leave with the help of that kind person behind the desk.
So why this post, why share about spending time at the DMV? My hope is that the next time you are in a situation you’d rather not be in, you think about what you can learn or what you can notice or what you can think about that will help shape your future for the better. Whether it is traffic, the longest grocery line ever, the DMV or the doctor’s waiting room (because you have to wait there since that is what it is called), maybe there is something else we can all do besides hate these situations. Maybe we can find something in them, and it can help us shape our own life for the better and live a better story because of stressful times – not in spite of them.
What’s a time you have experienced something stressful but gotten something out of it? Share it with us so we can learn too.