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The Dilemma of Impatience

While practicing Lectio Divina over the weekend, I found myself reading
Numbers 21:4-5:

“They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” ” [NIV]

impatienceAnd I immediately knew that “impatient” was the operative word for me. Impatience does not happen in the twinkling of an eye. It’s a process and literally, has steps along the way and thought patterns that culminate into full blown impatience. Here are just a few of the steps I discovered about myself.

  • I make assumptions about the destination and how long it will take to get there. This can be anything from walking my three-year-old grandson to the car to waiting for my lunch to be delivered at a restaurant. But it can also have a spiritual element: practicing silence (not 20 minutest yet??) or noting my unanswered prayers. 
  • I make assumptions of what I will or will not encounter. Why would I imagine that a “quiet time” would really be quiet: I live where cars, garbage trucks, pets, and a toddler manifest at will. 
  • I have often misunderstood the plan. How many times did I think I would be picked up at a certain time and discover it’s the wrong day? And how many times have I thought God wanted me to experience one moment when it was something altogether different? 
  • I don’t always recognize the early stages of impatience in my heart: it starts as a grumbling, like a gnawing hunger. At this point, there are no words, just a churning or frothiness within. 
  • Eventually, my grumbling becomes words, either out loud or in my head. I can rarely assuage the onslaught of impatience once words are formed. If anything, I’m digging in. Words make impatience stronger. 
  • My worst cases of impatience result in total disdain for “what is” and consequently, I miss what other thing could be born from the moment.
  • My personal inconvenience drives everything. It’s not long before hyperbole rules the day: How dare . . . ; I will NEVER . . . ; I hate . . . ; This ALWAYS . . .! And so on. The litany has its own rhythms and like the Baby Shark song, will not relent. 
  • As I review my episodes of impatience, whether with God or people, I can attest that I am no better than the Israelites. I complain, I lament, I give evidence of why I am justified in these feelings, and soon, I am ready to turn back. Whatever was awful before seems better than the way things are now. I think to myself, “if I can just avoid this situation, I will feel better. Life will be easier.” I’ll have that “old time religion.” 

gratefulRepercussions can develop from impatience that are more wretched than the original. Must I carry on until the “venomous snakes” (Numbers 21:6) show up before I repent? Or, can I breathe into the onslaught of impatient feelings and counter them with gratitude? 

That is the remedy, by the way. Just a simple expression of gratitude and acceptance. If I am surrendered to God, and believe God’s love for me, then really, is it too much to ask of myself to acknowledge the circumstances and walk them out? I want to say “yes, thanks,” and then see what happens. 

The Dilemma of Church

A year and a half ago, our church was betrayed by its pastor. We were a vibrant, youthful, trendy, and growing church with a funny and charismatic leader. But his own moral bankruptcy was brought to light, as such things generally are, and all were dismayed. What do we do now?

Many people left the church quickly while some drifted away as the days turned to weeks and the weeks to months. Some stayed, stalwart and determined, to show that this church was not about a single leader. The body of believers is the church etc. And although campuses shriveled and closed, a faithful core remained and now, more or less, the church is revived under new leadership and denominational oversight.

But what about me? The timing could not have been worse because, in truth, I was already pulling away. Despite having been in leadership from the very beginning (2011) and “all in,” as they say, for all of those years, I was changing from within. When my husband died in 2014, the outpouring from the church was remarkable and I am grateful for them and my own faith grounded in Christ. And yet, I found myself searching for a deeper understanding of God through silence and solitude. The upbeat, black box, theater atmosphere of the contemporary church was not easily fitting into this new wine skin.

I was one of those who drifted away with no place to go. I have been a church attender for nearly forty years. Sunday morning without obligations was a surprise to me, a kind of unhurried and lazy rising. In many ways, it was a truer sabbath than rushing out the door by seven a.m. to help set up this or that, attend stand up meetings, fill in for missing teachers, or run AV equipment; in general, work two back to back services wherever help was needed (the dream team).

After several months, I had to ask myself about church: Did I need it? Did I want it? And why? I have friends who have walked away from the institutionalized church and there are many books about giving up the routine of attending church. I knew all of that. And yet, as I began to learn some of the ancient spiritual practices within silence and solitude, mostly done alone, I wanted to share it too. I joined a couple of small groups and attended a few retreats. They were energizing. Was there a church that could do the same? Or could “any” church suffice? Isn’t it really about relationship–between individuals as well as God.

I thought visiting a variety of churches each Sunday would be fun. It’s not. I found myself with a secret checklist: how many people greeted me? Were there any children? How old was everyone? How was the sermon? How many attended? How did they celebrate communion and how often? What buzz words did they use? What clues were in the bulletin? How was the music? Was there anyone there “like” me? Was there diversity? Was the interior attractive? What kind of outreach do they do? Was there an unspoken political agenda? Was there an awareness of current events and acknowledgment of human suffering?

The list got longer each Sunday. It was ridiculous.

In the end, I set most of this checklist aside and stuck to these elements of discernment: Can I be myself in this place without self-editing what I say? Do I experience God’s Presence in this place and within myself while I am there? Can I grow in spiritual formation and discover more about the mystery of the Holy Trinity in this place?

The dilemma is not what this or that church has to offer me but who I am in the church.

Scripture is clear:
“Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for You are my praise.”—Jeremiah 17:14

And yet, there’s no magic here. In fact, it’s a process just like everything else. What have I learned in the last eight and a half weeks?

  1. The pain is real. And honestly, I’m not even talking about the initial breaks. I’m talking about this healing process. Most people ask, is it getting better? I guess. I can do a little more, move more, and it only hurts part of the time, not all of the time. That’s progress. I’ll not mention the ice pick jabs that stop me in my tracks.
  2. It’s slow. I mean painfully slow. After eight weeks, I only have to wear my brace at night but now I’m supposed to voluntarily move my hand and wrist. Each effort is a test: does it still hurt? See point one.
  3. The healing is not observable. In fact, I think my wrist looks like something leftover from a Frankensteinian procedure. There’s some weird things going on inside my skin: the tendons are tormented, the nerves are shaken, the bone is unyielding. The outer skin is poor camouflage to what is happening inside.
  4. Limitations are numerous. I suppose there is improvement here, after all, I can wash my own hair, put on deodorant, and snap my bra. Breakthroughs. But not for many weeks on the front end and the last thing I wanted to do was ask for help. But I see the truth of it. The initial pain is simply too much to bear alone. I had to confess to my restrictions, my body imposed prohibitions.
  5. Inertia prevailed. Exercise? Forget it. Productivity? No chance. Typing? Be still my hands. Field trips or escapades? Not hardly. The bed drew me mostly. I wasn’t just tired in my body, I was tired in my mind. I didn’t want to think about my injury. I still don’t, not really.

So where is the good news? The list is the same as always: patience, trust, gentleness with oneself, and a sense of humor. This is tortoise territory (as in the tortoise and the hare); slow and steady wins the race.

But the last thing I want to share is that these lessons are the same for the heart. If anyone has experienced a broken heart, the symptoms are probably the same, as well as the “solution.”

Time heals, God heals. That’s a promise. But it’s still up to each one of us to walk it.

It was quite political back then as well. Governments were corrupt and so was the religious establishment.

Everyone thought they knew how things would go. For the disciples, they had a miracle worker as their teacher/leader. He could stop a storm and raise people from the dead. Surely he would prevail.

The Sanhedrin and Pharisees had a prophecy and traditions to uphold. They were “all in” and were confident that they would know and recognize the foretold Messiah. But this young upstart, this Jesus, was just another rebel, using tricks and magic to sway the masses.

And the Romans, well, they had their law and order and strength to rule the whole world. Their gods had blessed their Caesar and they were loyal to a fault. Why would they even question that authority? God help the man who tried.

Just One More Death

He was just one more punishment, one more lesson for the masses, one more death. That one they called Jesus, he could have talked his way out of it; the evidence was sketchy at best. The crowd could yelled louder to release him. Even the disciples wondered why he didn’t stop the proceedings.

None of it made sense to the human mind or to the naked eye. sometimes it’s the worst of times that must happen to shed light on the truth.

” By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
   Who could have imagined his future?” Isaiah 53:8 [RSV,CV]

It’s Holy Week and devotions abound as believers recount and remember the passion story. Despite what our culture promotes, bunnies and colorful eggs, this is our high holiday, the most important part of the Christ story. Without Good Friday and Easter, the Christmas story is meaningless. But what stands out today?

I was caught off guard by these two verses (John 13:18 & 21): “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me [from Psalm 41:9].’” . . . After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”

Jesus knew. But here’s the point: they all knew. He told his disciples plainly. It’s not like the truth was hidden inside a parable or a mystery. Scripture goes on to say they didn’t understand, but ultimately, I believe they simply chose not to draw a conclusion. They didn’t want to know.

We see this all the time even today. The narcissist says, “are you gonna believe me or your lyin’ eyes?” The perpetrator says, “I couldn’t help it, my childhood was bad.” The victim says, “I thought he would change.” The voter says, “He’s just exaggerating, he doesn’t really mean it that way.” The cheater says, “It was just that one time.” Lots of excuses for not knowing or not seeing or not believing.

The worshiper cries out in song, “Open my eyes, I want to see Jesus,” even though God is actually present already, all around. The prayerful one asks for guidance, instruction, and counsel while God is speaking all the while within. We are not listening. We are not looking. We are not believing what is already there.

Jesus was betrayed by more than just Judas Iscariot. He was betrayed by all of the disciples by one degree or another. Even the beloved John could have acted at the disclosure Jesus gave him. Maybe he tried to stand up to stop Judas and Jesus stayed his hand. Maybe. After all, the ultimate betrayal had to happen one way or another.

And then there’s the rest of us, who waved our palm branches as Jesus entered the city only to cry out “crucify him” a few days later. Not you? Then tell me you have not required grace for the lie you told yesterday or the company copier you used for your tax forms or the joke you made about the lady in WalMart. We know. And we betray.

Each day has challenges and just like Peter, we will commit many misdeeds before the rooster crows even once. Betrayers abound, see them for who they are and forgive, respond righteously, and move on. And why must we forgive? Because we have done no less.

A Broken Wrist

This morning, while contemplating the phrase, “my times are in your hands,” from Psalm 31:15a, I considered how I would respond. Am I willing to give my time to God? Am I willing to surrender my time? So much of me is a planner: gotta be productive. Got so much to do. Busy, busy, busy. For years, this has been my unspoken mantra, drumming away in the background.

On St. Patrick’s Day, while still in Zambia, I slipped on wet concrete, my feet going up behind me and I landed full frontal on top of my wrist. Subsequent journeys to Lusaka to get it set and cast has nearly immobilized me. Wasn’t I already going slow enough on Zambia time? Apparently not. At first, I simply assumed there was a reason I needed to extend my stay by two weeks. But my return to the States has continued to see me moving at a different speed. The dang thing hurts. It’s uncomfortable to rest the hand/arm in any position. I can’t lift or push or grab with my left hand. I have to ask for help, even pouring oatmeal in a bowl or cutting a bagel in half. I have to stand around as others set the table or clean up after a meal.

But here’s the real message for me. It takes time to heal and it’s not always easy, comfortable, or painless. I am on a journey of spiritual formation: becoming more Christ-like and revealing my “true self.” Any believer is ultimately on this critical journey, but the path is different for each one. So, while I kvetch about my wrist, I see I am also bellyaching about my journey inward. Shouldn’t I be farther along by now? Shouldn’t I this or that? Wouldn’t I be/feel/know more? Is my wrist falling out of alignment? Is that why it hurts?

The wrist is on schedule. I just don’t like the speed of the progress. I don’t like the adjustments or the discomfort. It simply takes time. My body is fearfully and wonderfully made. My wrist will heal.

My soul and spirit are no less resilient and beloved. My false self will fall away, bit by bit, and I will know the healing grace of God more and more. My times are in God’s hands.

“May He send you help from the sanctuary (His dwelling place)
And support and strengthen you from Zion!” [Psalm 20:2, AMP]

What is the sanctuary? Initially, of course, my first thought went to the Temple or the Church. After all, it’s the word we have used through the ages to signify God’s dwelling place.

But there is so much more, that place of indwelling within us: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” [I Corinthians 6:19, NIV] Oh, how God wants us to search for our help from within! We have an opportunity to experience the support and strength of a Holy God. If we invited God into our lives, then why do we keep trying to operate on our own strength? I do this all the time. Help me, I cry, and then go about figuring my own solution.

I am slowly attuning my heart to questions, particularly the ones I have no ready answers for. This is my response to this scripture: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” [Matthew 7:7-8, NIV] Not ask for things but answers to the questions of my heart.

And one last thought: I bless you with the same. This is a prayer for you, for my loved ones, and for the strangers who cross my path. Look to the Sanctuary of God for help.

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