Trust in the Lord with all your heart.
--Proverbs 3:5 NIV
Not too long ago, we upgraded the internet at my house. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and all four of us were at home all the time using the internet, our bandwidth couldn’t handle the demands of four people streaming videos, video games, podcasts, social media and checking email. As it turned out, we were using “old technology” and the wireless router providing Wi-Fi was several years old and therefore ancient by current standards. Also, our provider had new plans which gave us faster speeds for a cheaper price. It turns out they are happy to just keep on billing you at a higher rate for slower speeds until you bother to check into it yourself. Since the upgrade, nobody is complaining about slow download speeds at my house, but I’m sure this pause in outrage will be only temporary. Our society is addicted to getting what we want as fast as possible.
Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to watch most any movie I want at the push of a few buttons and I get frustrated whenever the dreaded buffering symbol shows up. Whether it’s an hourglass, an arrow moving in a circle, a spiral or whatever, I grit my teeth at all of them. But I do take a perverse joy (just as my parents did before me and their parents did before them going back to the beginning of time) telling my teenagers about the days of going to an actual store to rent videos on videocassette, having a phone with an extremely long cord so I could talk on the phone in another room away from my parents and how amazing it was to connect to America Online via a modem which sounded like a truck carrying telephones crashed into another truck carrying staticky old black and white TV sets. Things keep getting exponentially faster but we are never satisfied for long.
I find myself at this particular moment in time especially impatient. When will the pandemic be over so things can go back to normal/ When will the election come so that the bombardment of political ads will end? When will our society do what needs to be done to eliminate racism, injustice towards immigrants, climate change, poverty and so many other social ills? When will things change for the better? I feel nothing but impatient right now.
Our spiritual lives seem like an odd mixture of patience and impatience. On the one hand there are times when putting something off any longer can hurt ourselves or others. We put off changing our diets or exercise that our bodies and minds need to be healthy. We delay vacations and times of rest and become less productive due to fatigue. We make excuses not to change policies and even laws that are unjust as people with less power suffer. On the other hand, there is much that is not in our control and we cannot change. We waste energy on anger and fear instead of finding peace and joy in the present moment. We love efficiency so much that we lose touch with the joy found in creating something of quality with care and intention.
Patience is one of the so-called Christian virtues, but it is not valued much today. In my own mind, I confuse patience with passivity. My nature is always to press forward intending to use the human agency given to me by God to its fullest. Of course, my way of plowing ahead regardless of the consequences is often due to the anxiety that comes when I slow down enough to acknowledge it.
The spiritual writer Henri Nouwen draws a distinction between patience and passivity. He writes:
Patience is not waiting passively until someone else does something. Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient, we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later, and somewhere else.
The scientist and writer on stress reduction Jon Kabat-Zinn describes patience this way:
Patience is an ever-present alternative to the mind’s endemic restlessness and impatience. Scratch the surface of impatience and what you will find lying beneath it, subtly or not so subtly, is anger. It’s the strong energy of not wanting things to be the way they are and blaming someone (often yourself) or some thing for it. This doesn’t mean you can’t hurry when you have to. It is possible even to hurry patiently, mindfully, moving fast because you have chosen to.
It seems so many writers, teachers and thinkers which speak of mindfulness these days are merely repeating the same message of spiritual teachers from long ago: whether one is moving fast or slow, be conscious of where you are, who you are and why you are doing what you are doing. This consciousness is at the heart of what we Christians call faith.
Faith isn’t really a set of beliefs but a way of existing in the world, a way of trusting God. The preacher and teacher Barbara Brown Taylor described this change in her own spiritual journey:
I…arrived at an understanding of faith that had far more to do with trust than with certainty. I trusted God to be God even if I could not say who God was for sure. I trusted God to sustain the world although I could not say for sure how that happened. I trusted God to hold me and those I loved, in life and in death, without giving me one shred of conclusive evidence that it was so.
This kind of faith, the trust kind, the kind we rely on when we either cannot act or don’t know what to do is difficult. It requires courage. Benedictine writer David Steindl-Rast puts it this way:
To have faith does not primarily mean believing something, but rather believing in someone. Faith is trust. It takes courage to trust. The opposite of faith is not disbelief, but distrust, fear. Fear makes us cling to anything within reach. Fear clings even to beliefs… Faith is the courage to respond gratefully to every given situation, out of trust in the Giver.
These anxious times cause us to hit the refresh buttons on our browsers, look at every news alert on our phones and obsessively watch cable news, but none of these actions offers us peace. Pointless activity is not the same as purposeful living. Patience generated by trust in God reveals to us when it is best to do something and when it is best to do little. The paradox of accomplishing more by doing less seems unsatisfying when we are afraid and angry, but out of such paradoxes God reveals to us peace and purpose.
May God grant you the peace of mind to discern when to do more and when to do less.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851