GROWING IN GRACE
It’s July, and I’m reminded of when I was a kid and I would complain about the summer heat. My mom would promptly tell me to “stop moving around so much and you’ll cool off.” Looking back, that seems to be as good an analogy for patience as I can think of.
When life makes us anxious, we tend to move around, trying to make things better. Rather than moving around so much, sometimes the best thing we can do is slow down and be patient knowing that God will make a way when there seems to be no way. Patience is hard, especially when the summer heat of life wears you down. This is why I’m convinced patience is a gift from God — otherwise it’s too easy to just continue to squirm and move, working up a sweat that never seems to end.
After 15 months of the chaos of a global pandemic we need more patience in our life, in our churches, and in the world around us.
Studies show most churches are still seeing a fraction of the people in person they saw before March 2020. You might be among the many who are back but are frustrated you don’t see your sanctuary as full as it used to be. I can tell you that if you’re frustrated, there’s place in line behind your pastor. We all wish things could go back to the way they were. But life never moves backward – only forward. Maybe instead of judging people who aren’t back in person yet, we could extend some patience and offer them grace. This past year was traumatic, to say the least. And vaccines can’t cure emotional trauma overnight. Let families reconnect on vacation this summer. Let’s use those newly formed digital muscles to continue offering services online so families can join long distance. We need more patience with each other in the church and we need to (finally) shake the notion that church is only church if you show up at a building in person.
We need more patience with our denomination. I’m at the head of the line, frustrated that we’ve delayed General Conference for an additional calendar year. If and when a denominational split comes, my local church and I are ready to move where we feel God is calling us next. It’s frustrating to feel like we’re in a holding pattern. But, maybe, just maybe, this additional year gives us time to celebrate our history before the future takes us in diverging directions. Maybe it gives us the chance to listen to each other just a little more and talk a little less. And maybe it gives us the time we need to listen to the voice of God speak to how we might venture into this new thing that is on the precipice of happening. Patience can be the gift we never knew we needed to live into this next year of waiting.
We need more patience in our everyday lives, too. I have a friend who owns a restaurant and asked him the other day how business is going now that vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks in public anymore. He said, “I never thought I would be unhappy to deal with people, but you can’t imagine how rude people have gotten over this last year. It’s like they’re making up for a year of being fussy at a restaurant all in one sitting.”
I often hear people complain that businesses are now understaffed. The complaint usually sounds something like, “Well, I guess people just don’t want to work.” Maybe; maybe not. Either way, you don’t have to take that attitude into a business that’s trying to do their best under such difficult conditions (not to mention after surviving a year of a global pandemic that interrupted their operations). Be okay waiting in line a little longer. Give your cashiers extra time to ring you up. And please tip 30 percent, minimum, when you go out to eat.
“Patience is a virtue,” the old saying goes. But, as Christians, we know it’s more than just virtuous to exhibit patience. It’s a fruit of the Spirit. As disciples, we are called to bear fruit for Jesus. So maybe we can start by moving around a little less, slowing down more, and embracing the seeds of patience God wants to give us. Who knows what kind of harvest we might see!
The Rev. Ben Gosden is senior pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Savannah. He can be reached at email@example.com.