I am not a patient person; few people are. On a scale of one to 10, my urgency is in the high 90s. Being a Southerner, I know not to be rude, but I do not understand why people at the drive-thru window take 10 minutes to give their money and get their food. Come on, people, I have places to go, people to see, fish to fry.
COVID-19 has slowed me down. I have no places to go, no people to see, no fish to fry. Being stuck in the house all day long brings my anxiety out in full force. When my wife asks me how my day went, I feel like a broken record: answered email, made calls, got ready for Sunday. Setting fire to the furniture is starting to sound exciting, just to break up the day.
Technology is not helping me be patient. If I must wait in line or wait for my doctor, my phone beckons me to check my email, send a text, read the news or play a game. I thought about downloading a meditation app the other day, but I'm afraid it would take too long.
Though I don't agree with the protesters who demand opening the economy and letting people die, I understand them. After nine weeks of quarantine, your judgment gets warped in the direction of "Let's do something!" When urgency and anxiety take control, wisdom is the first casualty.
One definition of patience I saw said, "Patience is what you have when there are too many witnesses." One dictionary says patience is "the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble or suffering without getting angry or upset." When I was a child and asked, "How much longer 'til we get there," my mother defined patience as "Be patient, or I will give you something to be patient about." That definition made no sense to me, but I kept my mouth shut the rest of the trip.
In the Bible, patience is waiting with hope. When God is present in your life, he brings patience to you. Patience flows out of your soul as resilience, peace and steadfastness. A good Biblical word, "long-suffering," is a byproduct of patience. You hope because you know you are not in charge; God is.
Jesus, perfect in every way, was patient. He is never described as being in a hurry. Once a man begged him to come and heal his daughter. Jesus agreed and was on the way to the man's house. A woman touched him and was healed. Jesus stopped his errand and focused on this woman, pronouncing a blessing over her faith. When word came that the daughter had died, Jesus did not say, "If only I hadn't stopped for that other woman!" Instead, he calmly proceeded to the home and brought the daughter back. Jesus was cool under pressure.
Over and over God is described as patient. He was definitely "long-suffering" with the Israelites, who would give themselves completely to him one moment, then turn and worship other gods the next. If I were God, I would have wiped them out on the second mess up and started over. But God stuck with his people for centuries. He tried to get their attention with prophets, with foreign conquerors. If patience was graded on a 10-point scale, God gets a million points.
Think how patient God is with you. You promised him over and over you would improve your life: you would start that diet, stop your temper, work on your relationships, be more generous. Maybe you know you need to stop the pattern of self-destruction in your life. The cycle of self-sabotage and shame needs to end. You want to fix it all today, but your soul doesn't seem to work that way. But God does not let go of you. He does not give up on you. He hangs in there with you, patient with the messiness of your life.
My favorite verse in the Bible is Isaiah 40:31: "Those that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint." Learning to wait on God is energy renewing. It requires surrendering your timetable, your agenda, your anxiety, your urgency to God. To wait on God means you open yourself to receive his gift of patience.
How do you do this? Take a minute, just a minute. Still your soul. Close your eyes. Repeat: "Not my will but yours." Feel your heart rate slow. Feel your breaths lengthen. Say it again: "Not my will but yours." Hear God's gentle whisper back: "Now you are on the right timetable. - mine."
The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.
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