A Holy Impatience?

All I wanted when I pulled into the McDonalds drive-thru was a Chocolate Chip Frappe.   I needed a little shot of caffeine.  It was a hot day.   The frappes were on sale (just a buck!).  A quick trip through the drive-thru seemed like just the thing.  I figured I’d place my order, pay with the spare change from my ash tray (my wife would never know!), and be on my way within minutes.

I figured wrong.

Apparently, someone in front of me had ordered several hundred Big Macs.  And fifteen minutes later, I was still in line.  Still waiting to hand over my fistful of change.  Still waiting for my Chocolate Chip Frappe.

I really, really, really do not like to wait.

Like most people, I want what I want, and I want it five minutes ago.  But I know better.  I know that “patience” is an important Christian virtue–no less than a “Fruit of the Spirit.”   And I know that a little patience can go do a lot to make life more pleasant.  (Neil Plantinga once wrote: “Patience is like good motor oil. It doesn’t remove all the contaminants. It just puts them into suspension so they don’t get into your works and seize them up.”)  So I’m doing what I can to cultivate a little more patience in my life.

But I wonder: Is impatience ever a good thing? Maybe even a holy thing?

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend over coffee and muffins. Faith is hard for her, she says.  She just can’t figure out why God doesn’t do more to stop all the hurt in this world.   Thousands of kids die of hunger every day.  Women and children are bought and sold like trinkets at a flee market.  A gunman bursts into a movie theater and unleashes his mayhem on a crowd of terrified strangers.  Why, she wonders, doesn’t God do something about it all?

The questions nag at her soul.  To her, the unsettled feeling deep in her gut feels a lot like doubt.  But I wonder she might learn to see these questions differently.  Not as evidence of doubt.   But of impatience.  

The Bible is full of impatient people–and impatient prayers. There is the Psalmist, who cries out from the depths: How long, oh Lord?!  How Long?!  (Psalm 13).  John, who pleads from his prison cell: Come quickly, Lord!  (Revelation 22:20).  And others too.  Again and again we see people crying out for God to act–and to act in a hurry.  Not because they doubt.  But because they have a deep, abiding faith.  Faith in a God who is good.  Faith in a God who is powerful.  Faith in a God who cares about the needs of the weak, the powerless, the marginalized.  Faith in a God who has promised to come and make things new, to come and bring the power of Resurrection to a groaning creation.  They have faith.  But it is an impatient faith.  A faith that wants God to come and do all that he says he can do–all they believe he can do–and to do it five minutes ago.

For those of us who hang on to both a keen awareness of the hurts of this world with one hand and a the glorious promise of God’s new creation in the other hand, it’s hard to be anything but impatient.  I believe our impatience can be a sign–a healthy sign–of Christian hope.  But none of us really likes to wait.  As Anne Lamott once wrote: “Believing in God is easy.  It’s waiting on him that’s hard.” The danger is that it may seem too hard.  The danger is that if we wait too long, we may start to think that the thing we’re waiting for doesn’t exist, or that if it does, its never going to come our way.  The danger is that at some point, we will grow so impatient that we will give up, decide it is no longer worth the wait, that we might as well step out of line and get on with life.  It happens in the McDonalds Drive-thru (Hey, who really needs that extra 570 calories?).  But it happens with people of faith, too.

And so it may be worth reminding ourselves of the Psalmist’s words once again:

  “Wait for the Lord;

be strong and take heart

And wait for the Lord.”  (Ps. 27:14)


Common Prayer for August 21

I resonated with today’s prayer in the Book of Common Prayer:

Lord God, help us to live out your gospel in the world. We pray for those who do not know your love, that they would be wooed by your goodness and seduced by your beauty. Form us into a family that runs deeper than biology or nationality or ethnicity, a family that is born again in you. May we be creators of holy mischief and agitators of comfort . . . -people who do not accept the world as it is but insist on its becoming what you want it to be. Let us groan as in the pains of childbirth for your kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. Help us to be midwives of that kingdom. Amen.


Renewing of the Mind

Today I dropped off my little girl at her bus stop for her very first full-day of school in her young life.  She, giddy with excitement and completely ignorant of any bus stop hierarchy, immediately began chatting up the middle-schoolers crowded around her.  At the arrival of the bus she clambered aboard without a look over her shoulder and was gone, ready to face the day and the rest of her life.

About a month ago someone asked me what one characteristic I would want to instill in my children before they left home.  Being the father of two girls my lighthearted and immediate response was, “Chastity!”  My serious answer, however, is found in the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 12 “[to] be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

This is my greatest hope for my children.  It is that nurtured in the triangle of home, church and school she not conform the pattern of this world but is transformed by the renewing of her mind.  NT Wright uses an unexpected OT passage to help understand what exactly a renewed mind is.  Wright, pulling from 2 Kings 5, compares Naaman the Syrian general beset by leprosy, to Gehazi the servant of Israel’s most powerful prophet.

Naaman, desperate to be cured of his leprosy, follows the directions of Elisha the prophet and is healed.  He declares that now he knows there is no God in all the world other than the one that is in Israel.  His conversion, however, doesn’t immediately make him an orthodox follower of God.  He still needs to straighten out his thinking of God and his thinking of himself.

Rather comically Naaman asks to take two carloads of Israeli dirt with him back to Damascus thinking that this is how he can bring the true God of Israel with him.  He obviously doesn’t understand that Israel’s God is not tied to land or even the universe itself. But he is trying to figure out how to worship this new God of his.  It reminds me of a new convert to Christianity I met when I lived in the Dominican Republic.  She had recently been a practicer of Santeria and Voodoo.  In a worship service she was so moved by a song to her new God that she began doing a chicken dance common to voodoo ceremonies.  This is how worship was done in her mind, she didn’t know any better.  Like Naaman she was trying to figure out how to worship this new God of hers.

Naaman also confesses to Elisha that he will still worship in the pagan temple to the fake god Rimmon.  Not because he wants to, but because his king will expect it of him.  Namaan is aware of how compromised he is.  We half expect Elisha the prophet to unleash a lecture of orthodoxy upon Naaman.  But instead all he says is “Go in peace.”

Gehazi, the prophet’s servant, perhaps the person in all of Israel after Elisha himself who should have know what is right and how to worship God, betrays Elisha.  After Naaman heads home, his gifts of payment spurned by the prophet, Gehazi catches him up and asks for a payment.  Naaman gives it to him and Gehazi is compromised, though when he returns to Elisha he lies and denies it. He is struck down with Naaman’s leprosy.

What is the difference between Naaman and Gehazi?

In this story we have two very muddled men.  The difference between the two is movement.  Naaman is someone moving from darkness to light.  He is aware of how compromised he is.  He tries to straighten out his worship of God.  Gehazi, one who knows how to think of God, moves from light to darkness.

As my daughters grow older I pray that they move from darkness to light.  This is the renewing of the mind Paul speaks of.  It isn’t about knowledge but movement.  Movement towards God.  It isn’t about having the answers, but recognizing just how compromised we are by the patterns of this world and how desperately we need God.  My greatest desire is that the one characteristic my girls have when they leave home is a hunger and desire to move closer to their God.  That they be transformed by the renewing of their minds.