WAITING TO WIN

A shopper observed a mother in the grocery store with her three-year-old in her cart. As they passed the cookie section, the child asked for cookies and her mother told her “no.” The little girl immediately began to whine and fuss, and the mother said quietly, “Now Elizabeth, we just have half the aisles left to go through; don’t be upset. It won’t be long.” The shopper passed mom again in the candy aisle. Of course, the little girl began to shout for candy. When said she couldn’t have any, the girl began to cry. The mother said, “There, there, Elizabeth, don’t cry. Only two more aisles to go, and then we’ll be checking out.” The shopper happened to be behind the pair at the check-out, where the little girl immediately began to clamor for gum and burst into a tantrum discovering there would be no gum purchased today. The mother patiently said, “Elizabeth, we’ll be through this check-out line in five minutes, and then you can go home and have a nice nap.” The shopper followed them out to the parking lot to stop the mom to compliment her.

“I couldn’t help noticing how patient you were with little Elizabeth….” The mother broke in, “My little girl’s name is Tammy. I’m Elizabeth.”

Moms strive to be patient, hopefully having at least one trick up the sleeve to maintain equilibrium and composure.

We may as well learn how to wait well because no matter how aggravated we get, we can’t rush good things. They come when they come. God sees to that. This is the point when scripture says, “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” Ro 8:25 We’re never going to have all we want done when we want it. This is one of those basic realities we’re better off accepting than fighting. A person who has learned to be patient with God, others, and with him or herself has become a very important person.

Not that this is easy to do. Society attempts to persuade us that life should be easy, fun, and profitable—morning, noon, and night. We shouldn’t have to wait for anything. If we do, then we’re being cheated out of what’s promised to those born in a country of privilege and plenty. This isn’t biblical, and it’s not biblical because it’s not God’s will. We ought to throw away those lessons and get us to a fresher look at life, at what’s make our lives meaningful, special, important—what makes us live with a healthy dose of divinity mixed in with our humanity.

The level of impatience today is staggering. We have so much, but it’s not enough. When or how will fast enough or enough enough ever be enough? The truth is it may never be, not for a society built as it is on producing and consuming. The ideas of maximizing growth and continuous progress lead to establishing the ever-demanding dynamism of more and more. All around you, including each of us, we participate and live as if growth and progress and the more or the increase are natural or ordained to be our lot in life, our right. But they’re not. So little of that comes from God. It’s human made and it wasn’t even like this not that long ago.

Did you ever see the Queen’s Gambit, the Netflix series about a female chess prodigy? It takes place basically in the 60’s. In one scene, she’s at an Ohio University playing in a chess tournament. It’s nighttime and she’s studying for the next day’s matches. She decides to go to the cafeteria to get some coffee. When she walks out the door, she brings her ceramic cup to fill it. There were no Styrofoam or paper cups at the cafeteria, nobody to clean her cup for her and get her another in the 60s. She walked with that cup all the way, planning on using it and reusing it.

If you’re saying to yourself, well I bring my own coffee container or water container with me, that’s wonderful. The fact is however that wherever we go in our world, there will always be cups waiting, cups produced for one use, to be consumed one time, and then thrown away. Can you imagine the ire, the impatience, if there were no cups provided for us? More and more…and our expectations get elevated, and our impatience arises when they’re not met.

What makes us special, our lives meaningful, important, won’t be found by staying in the stream of instant gratification, the produce and consume cycle, the use and trash world we inhabit. See for yourself how much you belong to an impatient, always getting, always demanding world. Look and register what it’s doing to you and what it’s not doing for you. Instant gratification isn’t a birthright. It’s debilitating and leads to impatience, anxiety, weakness, and disregard for or even disrespect of others, as well as an unsustainable demand on the earth as our personal resource pool.

Let’s not exist within the way things are if the way things are aren’t blessing us. Free yourself to see clearly what is beneficial and what isn’t. We don’t want to be pawns on a board not slanted toward goodness, toward health, toward maturing in Christ.

I don’t know about you, but I am the worst grocery store line picker. Nobody can be worse than a 0% average when deciding which line to get in that’s going to be fastest. It’s truly amazing that no matter what line I finally choose it will 100% be the slower lane than the one I could have chosen or just left to go into the line I am now waiting in. Isn’t it wonderful when you see the people you were ahead of in that other line walking out of the store before your groceries are even scanned? I just love that complex bitter, hot, mix of embarrassment, frustration, impatience, and justified anger at the universe and the shopping line gods who clearly have it out for me.

But when I’m in this situation, and I let go of the momentary shame of being a grocery store line picker loser, I raise my spirit by putting Ephesians 4:2 into practice: “Be completely humble and gentle. Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” You see, I don’t say anything to the glacially slow person with the massive amounts of coupons or to the clerk that’s chatting it up or when they leave their post to get cigarettes, which they should never have to do, by the way. Because the truth is I will get out of the store a minute or two, maybe at worst three or four minutes slower, but it will happen. Every time it happens. And everything will be alright.

Some people fear patience because they don’t want trials. What I mean is that if you realize you’re going to have to be patient in your life then you also realize you’re going to have to face problems in life. People aren’t here to make sure your day goes as you plan it or somewhat haphazardly bump around in it. It is what it is. They have their own lives. It is what it is. It’s time to give up the fantasy that everything is supposed to work out for me, myself, and I. Learn patience because the world isn’t perfect—far from it. By being patient, we can come close to being perfect, which is a lot easier for us to do than for the world to do.

Our scripture reading says, “Be patient…. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. So, you also must be patient.” The farmer waits and waits but also knows something is happening even when it doesn’t look like anything is happening. The farmer, James tells us, knows to keep hope alive.

You know, patience is just passivity if there isn’t any sense of hope involved. We ought to be patient, but we also need to believe something good is going to happen. Keep your hope. Don’t get tired before you get what God has in store for you. I’m sure you’ve gotten things you’ve had to

be patient about. Believe the Lord is doing good things with you and for you. Trust that God’s gracious crop of new life is ready to spring forth.

There was a study started in 1968 by a Stanford University researcher that presented each member of a group of preschool children with a single marshmallow. The researcher wanted to see which of them could resist eating it long enough to earn a second treat. Follow-up studies found the children who’d demonstrated sufficient patience to win the prize experienced greater success later in life. They were more likely than the impatient kids to earn good salaries and less likely to suffer from addictions of all kinds. The researchers’ conclusion: Those with an ability to defer gratification enjoy greater life chances.

Though it is true that there are times when we’re supposed to be able to consider more than the immediate, sometimes what’s right in front of you must be dealt with, like the young woman who thought she’d been patient enough through a long period of dating with her boyfriend but still there was no talk of marriage. One night he took her to a Chinese restaurant. As he looked over the menu, he casually asked her, “So… how do you want your rice? Plain or fried?” Without missing a beat, she looked over the top of her menu at him and replied, “Thrown.”

We grow in patience when we put it into practice in our actual life. God can’t help you expand your patience if you don’t practice your patience. The truth is we’re practicing the art of impatience all the time. No wonder why so many are so good at it. We ought to turn that around. Learn how to enjoy the drive to work in the morning. Learn how to be patient toward that person that annoys you. Learn how to get the most out of that job before you move on from it. I know it feels like you’ve already put up with a lot but maybe there’s more you’re supposed to learn from the situation.

According to a traditional Hebrew story, Abraham was sitting outside his tent one evening when he saw an old man, weary from age and journey, coming toward him. Abraham rushed out, greeted him, and then invited him into his tent. There he washed the old man’s feet and gave him food and drink. The old man immediately began eating without saying any prayer or blessing. So, Abraham asked him, “Don’t you worship God?” The old traveler replied, “I worship fire only and reverence no other god.” When he heard this, Abraham became angry, grabbed the old man by the shoulders, and threw him out of his tent into the cold night air. When the old man had departed, God called to his friend Abraham and asked where the stranger

was. Abraham replied, “I forced him out because he didn’t worship you.” God answered, “I have suffered him these eighty years although he dishonors me. Could you not endure him one night?”

Each of us has our barometer for how much patience is enough. Expand yours. Find greater value in being calmer for longer. This doesn’t involve gritting our teeth and bearing reality. On the contrary, it involves noticing positive things and feelings and actions. Pay attention to pleasant, everyday sensations and experiences, like the pleasure of eating when you’re hungry, seeing a beautiful bank of clouds in the sky, or hearing the voice of your child. Breathe into patience and peace.

The Lord has provided so many ways to grow into patience. Each day something or someone will help you become better at it—or worse. Practice patience. Calm your heart. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Bless them with your patience and you will be blessed in turn.

Can the church say Amen?

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