Patience

I’ve written before about the perils of broken bones. With four active (and possibly clumsy?) kids, we’ve had our fair share of trips to get x-rays. During a recent high school soccer game, our older son Knox added a fifth broken bone to his personal list. From what I could see from my seat on the diagonally-opposite end of the soccer field, Knox had passed the ball, then a player from the other team ran into him like a locomotive and sent him flying through the air. Knox landed on his arm and was escorted to his team bench. We hustled him off to get an x-ray, and the next day he had a new conversation-starter by way of a black forearm cast. Oh, Knox! What happened? Well…

 

It’s not especially serious—just a little buckle fracture on his left wrist—but he got a cast just to keep it protected. It hasn’t slowed him down much. He’s still playing soccer and will wear the cast at church camp in a few weeks. (Yes, that’s just as gross as you think it is.) But if there’s one thing we’ve learned through all these broken bones (other than asking for a waterproof cast, if possible), is that all you can do is endure it. The healing takes time, and waiting for time to pass takes patience (and sometimes liberal applications of Febreze).

 

Unfortunately for our current society, we’ve become abysmally bad at exercising patience. When I was young, it was nothing for me to stand in a long line with my mom at the bank or a store. I’m not saying that I liked it, but we definitely practiced this skill a lot more often than we do now. It’s possible to force ourselves to strengthen this rarely used muscle of patience in specific, intentional ways, but let me give you a motivator for why it’s important to learn to be patience. And it goes beyond waiting for a bone to heal so a stinky cast can come off! It is actually downright spiritual!

 

In the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul is writing to the church in Rome, encouraging them to remain faithful and righteous, even when it seemed like they should give up. He compared what they were going through to the pains of childbirth. Just like a mother struggling to give birth, they should hold on to a future hope. It would all be worth it!

 

In Romans 8, we read, “We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us.  We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)” (NLT)

 

Paul doesn’t tell them to ignore their present troubles. He also doesn’t tell them to imagine they’re already living in the time of future glory. He reminds them that the waiting is a gift, a one-of-a-kind, gorgeously-wrapped present. You unwrap it and look inside. What do you see? Hope. It’s quite literally the gift that keeps on giving.  Having an event or holiday or special meal to look forward to can often be just as rewarding as the thing itself. One version of the Bible called The Message puts it this way: “But the longer we wait…the more joyful our expectancy.”

Faithfulness

It’s funny to track the differences between my childhood in the 1970’s and 1980’s with the world that my kids live in now. The ways we shopped (from fussy department stores to low-budget Kmart) and played (biking through the neighborhoods with abandon), how we listened to music (records and cassettes) and what foods we ate (TV dinners were a treat! Who wouldn’t want your fried chicken leg, mashed potatoes, corn, and soggy brownie to all taste exactly the same!?) were so different from what they expect today.

 

One big change is how my kids watch TV. With the help of things like online streaming and DVR recordings, they have, at the touch of their fingers, a bajillion (trust me about this number…I’ve done my research) options. But there’s one thing they don’t get to experience much, and that’s commercials.

 

My sisters and I had so many commercials memorized. We knew—and still know—plenty of jingles (“My Buddy, My Buddy, My Buddy and Me!”)

and taglines (“Mr. Owl, how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Roll Pop? Good question…uh one, uh two, uh three, crunch.”)

We could sing along to the record compilation commercials which ticked off one snippet of a popular song from some bygone era at a time, the song titles scrolling by with the words in white or yellow. We would act out the Folgers commercial where the older brother comes home early to surprise his family for Christmas and brews them coffee so strong that it literally rouses his family from their upstairs bedrooms. (“Peter! Everyone’s asleep. I know how to wake ‘em up!”)

 

One commercial we talked about a lot, which I often think of when I’m cutting up a tomato, is the one for Ginsu knives. It showed a man breaking a board with his hand and then trying the same method to slice a rather mealy-looking tomato. It should come as no surprise that the man’s hand did not in fact cut the tomato…it shmooshed it. The commercial went on to show an amazing knife which could cut a can, and then, without losing dullness, it could perfectly slice that tomato.

It cut meat and halved a block of frozen spinach, and it hacked away at a 2×4. Then the announcer asked us what we’d expect to pay for such a wonder tool. “But wait,” he told us, “Here are some steak knives and a spiral slicer and a meat fork…” It all sounded too good to be true.

 

That’s what I remember most about commercials from that time—products which seemed so good and yet were so cheap. Could we trust these advertisers? Was this a trick, a scam? Could I really cut an aluminum can that easily? We wanted to know! This wariness was the start of my cynicism and mistrust. If it sounds too good to be true, it must not be true.

 

Then I learned about a word we don’t use very often anymore—faithfulness. When we do hear it, it’s usually in reference to a marriage, or less often a friendship. But mostly it’s just in old church hymns. If you dive into the Book of Psalms, we see faithfulness used nearly 80 times. King David, one of the authors of the Psalms, pairs faithfulness with love and says that God’s faithfulness reaches to the skies. But David also says that God’s faithfulness protects him from wrongdoers. The assurance of God’s enduring faithfulness gives David strength when he’s having a rough time. So what is this quality which is as multi-faceted as a Swiss Army knife (and sharper than a Ginsu)?

 

Faithfulness means keeping promises. It’s means being reliable and truthful and following through. It suggests associations which are personal and connected. And to some people, especially those who have been continually hurt and disappointed, it sounds too good to be true. But it is possible and available. Don’t believe me? Well, here’s your homework: Read the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. Watch God weave His promises all through this crazy drama. Watch God bring it all around to a faithful ending, even down to the burying of Joseph’s bones in the Promised Land. Then recite the following verse to yourself: “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Forget yourself

When my husband and I were first married, we lived in an apartment which was conveniently located right next to a Kroger. There were many times when I would park my car in my designated spot by our apartment and walk over to the grocery store after work to pick up a few items for supper. I reasoned that the exercise would do me good, and by the time I waited for the traffic to slow down to make the necessary turns out of our apartment complex and into the store parking lot, do my shopping, then do the reverse, walking was just quicker. (Now that I have four kids—3 teens and one that isn’t a teen but eats like one—and a grocery list as long as my arm, it’s hilarious to me that I would routinely walk out of Kroger with only a couple of bags.)

 

In order to make the trek from our apartment to the Kroger parking lot, I would have to climb down a fairly steep set of steps carved into the side of a bank of dirt. If memory serves me, there was a railing, but, though I was in my mid-20’s and somewhat spry, it could be a precarious climb.

 

On one occasion, I was met at the bottom of the stairs on my way back to my apartment by a tiny elderly woman who had a similar idea. I’m not sure if she lived in our apartment complex or if she was heading to the nearby senior center, but she also had groceries to haul up the steep stairs. I could tell she was trying to decide how she could safely make the ascent as she hung two or three bags on each wrist and stared up at the incline.

 

“Can I help?” I asked, setting my bags on the ground. The woman nodded and handed me her groceries which I carried to the top of the steps. Then I came back down and held her arm as she slowly made her way up. I headed back down one more time to get my bags and made another offer. “Can I help you get your groceries somewhere?”

 

“No, dear,” she answered, revealing a slight accent, maybe something Russian or from a country in Eastern Europe. “I can do for myself now.” She reached into her ancient pocketbook and pulled out a change purse.

 

“You don’t need to pay me,” I told her. “It was no problem.” Ignoring my words, the woman grabbed my hand and thrust a pile of dimes into my open palm. “Seriously. I was happy to do it,” I said as I tried to refuse the coins.

 

But she wouldn’t take no for an answer. “When someone wants to give you something, you should take it,” she barked irritably. She snapped her change purse shut and shuffled off to the left. I eventually headed to the right, the cache of dimes growing sweatier and sweatier in my hand as I walked across the steamy asphalt to my apartment. I felt abused and chastised, wondering what I’d done wrong.

 

I’ve thought about that woman many times, and not because it was an especially unusual moment. It didn’t spark a lifelong friendship Tuesdays with Morrie-style or change my outlook on grocery shopping or stair climbing or the irrelevance of coins in our U.S. currency. Though it happened more than twenty years ago, I think the reason that made that memory stick in my head was her insistence that I be paid for my simple chore and her obvious frustration with me when I tried to refuse it.

 

But that’s the thing about helping others—or really any interactions we have with other humans—there can be a lot of layers, both for the helper and the person being helped. What’s the helper’s motivation? Could the aid being given somehow hurt the person being helped? With all the ways to intentionally and unintentionally offend, it sometimes makes you wonder if it’s even worth it to get involved.

 

I turn to the advice which the Apostle Paul gave to the Philippian church. He said, “If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” (The Message)

 

Forget yourself long enough to see the best way to help, offering equal parts dignity and compassion.