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.”

Worth the wait

Tugging at the tape ever so slowly and pulling back the wrapping paper, the present beneath gradually revealed itself. In a dark living room with only the aid of the soft glow of Christmas tree lights to illuminate my mischievous task, I spotted a length of hot pink nylon fabric with lime green plastic piping. It was a duffel bag, and it spoke to me of future slumber parties and sleep-overs and fun. But the joy I felt was tinged with feelings of guilt and remorse, because it wasn’t Christmas yet and I was sneaking a look at my present a few days early and without permission. I re-taped the package and slid it back under the tree.

 

Though this was nearly forty Christmases ago, I still remember that feeling—the wicked thrill of doing something that was obviously wrong for which I might easily get caught, my only companion a miniature version of Baby Jesus in a Manger in ornament-form dangling on a tree branch just above my head.

 

Now, as the wrapped presents pile up under our tree, my youngest son is faced with the same temptation. I see him hungrily eyeing those presents with his name on them, wondering what joys lie just beneath the candy cane wrapping paper. He asks me almost daily, “When can I open them? Why do we have to wait?”

 

It’s a logical question: There’s the present. He wants the present. I bought him the present. So what’s the point of waiting?

 

This is one of those universal human dilemmas with which we all must struggle—waiting. It’s why people say things like “Good things come to those who wait.” It’s an attempt to mollify that nagging frustration we feel as we are forced to wait for something. Our consolation that the prize had better be worth the delay.

 

If you’re looking for an example of Championship Waiting, check out the Prophetess Anna in Luke 2. Scripture tells us that she had been a widow for most of her life and spent all of her days and nights at the Temple worshiping God and fasting and praying and waiting for the Promised Messiah.

 

I can imagine her there, standing in the courtyard, perhaps busying herself with sweeping or tidying up. She notices a commotion. A young couple has brought in their baby to be circumcised and dedicated to God. Simeon, another Temple Frequenter, has spotted the family and snatched the baby in his arms, jubilantly. Simeon tells the mother that her son is the One he’s been waiting for.

 

Anna hears bits of their conversation, words like salvation, lightand glory. Heart pounding and legs like jelly, she rushes over. Seeing Jesus for the first time, Anna doesn’t feel her 84 years as all of those sorrow-filled nights spent asking why she was alone melted away. She is joyful to be present for such an occasion—the arrival of her rescue.

 

My experience with waiting has been up and down the spectrum, from Peaceful Patience to Raging Lunatic. I’ve felt it all. But, in the end, nothing beats the Big Reveal, when the time is just right to open up the gift you’ve been anxiously expecting for so long. It can come in many packages—big and small—like it did so many years ago in the form of a baby boy.

Fast Pass

During the week of Fall Break, my family and I went to the place where dreams come true: Orlando, Florida. We spent five days at Walt Disney World and 2 days (give or take) at Universal Studios. (Thanks to Hurricane Matthew, or at least the threat of Hurricane Matthew, we spent 24 hours hunkered down in our hotel on Friday. Then we rose early Saturday morning to squeeze in a few more hours at the park before our flight out of town.)

This trip was just one more way to Americanize our African-born son. He saw ordinary people lined up to get signatures of other ordinary people dressed up as famous movie characters. He saw able-bodied 8-year olds being pushed in strollers. And with the Disney meal plan, he got a dessert with every meal. Fame, food, and easy living, brother, that’s what we’re all about!

For our 5-year old, the most maddening part of the trip was the lines. He loved the rides and the shows and the general atmosphere, but those lines! The planners of the parks usually try to make the lines tolerable. They often add fans, interactive games, and television screens. Sometimes, they even make the lines snake around cool set pieces, preparing you for the ride you will eventually board. But a 45-minute wait is still a 45-minute wait and to a 5-year old it might as well be a month.

This is especially true when said 5-year old needs to go to the bathroom. Like, hypothetically-speaking, when he tells you that he needs to pee after you have spent half an hour waiting to make a daring escape with Harry Potter through a series of goblin-guarded bank vaults but he doesn’t tell you he needs to go until you are almost there so you tell him to hold it which he does until just after the ride is over and now he is standing in the middle of a scale replica of Hogsmeade village with wet britches and no extra clothes so his mom goes in to a shop and buys the only pants available—a pair of Harry Potter pajamas—which he will wear the rest of the day sans underwear.

There are times when you are given the opportunity to get permission to move to the front of the line. At Disney World this is called a Fast Pass. It is an ingenious way to teach kids about the “haves” and “have-nots”. When you have a Fast Pass, you practically jog down the short line to step in front of the suckers who are suffering from heat stroke as they wait to climb on the ride. When you don’t have a Fast Pass, you see those arrogant jerks looking fresh as a daisy and walking right on the ride without even stopping for a minute and you try not to hate them. Voila: Empathy education. (Beware: The Fast Pass mentality can really get in your head. I found myself wanting to get a Fast Pass for the bathroom and the restaurant lunch lines.)

Waiting in lines at an amusement park is a lot like life. You spend most of your time doing the mundane and boring—emptying the dishwasher and folding towels—waiting and dreaming and counting down the minutes until the precious, magical seconds will finally arrive. It’s not unusual to work for hours for a meal that will last 15 minutes or plan and prepare for days for a 2-hour birthday party. This is how life often feels, mostly cloudy with sporadic rainbows.

What if we take at least a few of those mundane moments and make them a different brand of magical and precious? What if we turn off our cell phones and tell our kids a story or play rock-paper-scissors with them instead? What if magical moments can occur in places outside of Orlando like the grocery store or the front porch? They don’t have to be documented. They don’t have to be planned. They don’t have to cost more than the price of your time and attention. Don’t Fast Pass the commonplace. They may be the ride you didn’t know you’re waiting for.

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