GROWING IN GRACE
There’s something we all do at least once a day or maybe once a week. It happens in a variety of settings. It can happen unexpectedly – we think we’re in the clear. Or we can see it coming before we ever get there. What am I talking about? Standing in line, of course!
Have you ever thought about the different lines we regularly find ourselves in? We stand in line to check out at the grocery store, we wait in lines of traffic, some of us still wait in line at the post office, every few years we wait in line at the DMV, we wait for our beloved coffee, and we sometimes even wait in line at church.
A couple of weeks ago, I preached a sermon where I talked about standing in line, and for preparation I went to Facebook to ask people what they did when they found themselves in a line. I received an interesting variety of answers. Lots of people said they listen and watch what others are saying or doing (or buying) around them (the people honest about being a little nosey). Some said they would strike up a conversation with a stranger nearby (the extroverts among us). A number of people said they pull out their phones to entertain them while they wait (those of us just looking for an escape to distract us from our hassles). Some were honest enough to say they see how long the line is and just leave if it’s going to be too long of a wait (the impatient ones among us).
I don’t care how efficient we get or how many conveniences we invent, like it or not, waiting in line is just a part of life. Lines are aggravating. They take time. They can get us off schedule and make our day much less enjoyable.
But maybe ... can they can also be opportunities to grow closer to God?
I think standing in line can teach us lots of ways to grow closer to God, but there are two I want to lift up.
The first way standing in line can help us grow closer to God is that it teaches us patience. We live hectic lives, franticly bouncing from one scheduled item to the next. Standing in line acts as a forced interruption to our frantic pace – it purposely slows us down. Next time you find yourself waiting in line, maybe think of it as a reminder to slow down and reflect. Think of the prayer concerns on your heart. Reflect on your day, the decisions you’ve made, and the things you’ll have to deal with later in your day. Use that time to ask God to help you make good decisions, to act (and react!) in a way that reflects the love of God, and to intentionally place your trust in God who will see you through your day no matter how hard it might seem.
Henri Nouwen once wrote: “A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden will manifest itself.” Maybe the patience you’ll discover while waiting in line is found in being surprised by an act of grace that happens nearby, or maybe a person in need you might otherwise ignore because you’re so busy. Standing in line teaches us patience, which is, in case we forget, a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5).
Another way standing in line can help us grow closer to God is that it can help us grow to be more mindful. What is mindfulness, you ask? One writer put it this way: “Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different.” It’s the intentional act of paying attention no matter what is happening around us.
If we live our lives in a rush, wishing for the next thing to happen, we miss out on the grace God has for us right this minute. Standing in line slows us down, and it’s our job to pay attention because you never know what God might be doing in our midst. This means we have to work to rid ourselves of distractions.
Comedian Louis CK has a funny, but profound, bit where he talks about the dangers of cell phones. He says we use our cell phones to avoid being alone in the world. When we encounter silence, we have an immediate sense of being alone, so we pull out our phones to feel “connected” to something and avoid the deep feelings that might come up when we feel alone. Maybe standing in line can teach us not to be so afraid of silence in our lives. And it’s not just cell phones – think of how many things you use to fill the silences of your life with noise. Why do we do that?
Thomas Merton says if you want to experience God, you must enter the silence. Maybe Merton said that because when we dare to enter the silence and encounter the aloneness it brings we might actually find God there and realize there’s nothing to be afraid of after all.
I don’t know about you, but I hope the next time I find myself standing in line I see it as a blessing – a gift – and not a burden. That line might be test to grow in my sense of patience. It might just be an opportunity to pay attention to see where God is moving around me. It might, if I’m lucky, be a gateway into the silence of my soul where I will discover the greatest truth of human existence – we are not alone. God is with us.
The Rev. Ben Gosden is the senior pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Savannah. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.