VIEW VIDEO Our granddaughter Madeline was visiting us this past week. I was up in my office working, and she was downstairs with Joan making brownies. They were discussing various topics, then I hear Madeline say, “I’m going to go upstairs and ask Papa to play Barbies with me.” Somehow, somewhere, someone gave Madeline several Barbies and we would like to know who so we could kill them. We loathe Barbie. But we love our granddaughter, and she seems fond of Barbie, so we let her play with them at our house, even though we make comments about Barbies while Madeline is playing with them.
“Yes, Barbie’s pretty,” I’ll say to Madeline, “but being kind and smart is more important.”
“Don’t forget being strong and speaking up,” Joan adds. “That’s more important than being pretty.”
But I digress, so back to our story. When I heard Madeline say she was coming upstairs to ask me to play Barbie with her, I fled to the bathroom so I wouldn’t have to. That night, Joan took me to task, which I deserved. I said, “I wonder why I get so antsy playing with Madeline?” It was more of a rhetorical question, but Joan didn’t realize that, and said, “Because it takes patience to play with small children, and you’re impatient.” And she’s right. I love my granddaughter with all my heart, but I can’t wait until she’s old enough to discuss theology or the obvious merits of the BMW boxer engine.
At the beginning of this sermon series on wholeness, I mentioned being taught that I was born with original sin, caused by the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Saw a great picture about that this week. It was of a little baby looking rather anxious, and the little thought bubble read, “Original sin? I just got here. What the hell did I do?” While I reject that theology, I do believe we all experience and inhabit moments and places of brokenness. Eventually, we realize our lives are a quest for maturity, wholeness and completeness, and that this quest is a lifelong journey. We’re not going to get there next week, or even next year, though progress is possible. Our journey can be helped by cultivating specific habits and behaviors, and last week I said balance was one of those habits. I defined balance as giving each aspect of life its proper weight, place and priority, lest we lose our sense of equilibrium and we collapse.
Today, I want to emphasize the importance of patience in our journey toward wholeness. I heard a wonderful definition of patience a while back, that I want to share. I’m not certain who first said it, only that I didn’t. Patience is the calm acceptance that things can happen in a different order than the one you have in mind. I love that definition, because it is exactly what I experience. I wake up every morning with a clear idea of what I want to happen and what I want to accomplish. My carefully considered agenda lasts for about 15 minutes, then the phone rings, or I get an email or text, or something breaks, or someone needs something, or someone does something, or Madeline comes over and wants to play Barbies.
I immediately grow frustrated, and usually say out loud to Joan, “Can I have just one day where everything goes as planned?” Again, it’s a rhetorical question, but Joan doesn’t realize that and always says, “No. Deal with it.” Patience is the calm acceptance that things can happen in a different order than the one you have in mind.
We do things while impatient we would never do while patient. The results are sometimes catastrophic. This week is Holy Week, recalling the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Two thousand years later, scholars still try to shed further light on those events. Many scholars believe Judas, who purportedly betrayed Jesus to the Romans for thirty pieces of silver, was a member of a group known as the Zealots, who believed God would intervene at a critical moment, enabling Israel to overthrow the Roman authorities. All God required was a precipitating event. Judas, with the magical thinking that often accompanies fanaticism, believed he could force God’s hand by turning Jesus over to the Romans. And so he did, realizing too late that he had misjudged God’s intentions, and consequently took his life. Just think how different things might have been if Judas had calmly accepted the idea that things can happen in a different order than the one he had in mind. How different Christianity might have been if its founding story had not been rooted in zealotry, fanaticism, violence, and blood sacrifice─characteristics that continue to distort the Christian witness. If only Judas had been patient.
Let me add an important point. It is one thing to cultivate the inward discipline of patience. It is another thing entirely to urge the weary victims of injustice to patiently endure their trials. Just this week, I heard a man urge Asian-Americans, protesting the violent racism threatening their lives, to “settle down,” as if all they needed to do was stoically endure the abuse of their race, as if violence against Asian-Americans were a new thing that would soon pass. Patience can never be an excuse for further tyranny.
Patience allows us to see paths we had not seen, opportunities we had not noticed, and truths we had not realized. The impatient person is always limited by their blind commitment to the one avenue they have in mind. The impatient have only one track. Thus, impatience is the basis for almost every “ism” we encounter, whether it is fundamentalism, nationalism, racism, or sexism. Each of these toxic “isms” have at their root an unwillingness or inability to appreciate any experience but their own.
Impatience says, “My way is best, and I must have it now.” Patience says, “There are other paths than the one I have chosen. I am willing to see where other paths may lead.”