Waiting in rush-hour traffic. Waiting in a checkout line. Waiting for a table in a busy restaurant, then waiting to give my order, then waiting to get my food. Getting through the TSA line at the airport, or the ticket line at the theater, or the ubiquitous line at the Apple Store (which starts to queue up long before the store opens).
Waiting, waiting, waiting. I confess that I’m often not good at it, and become impatient. The last time I had my blood drawn at a local clinic, for example, I showed up early for my appointed time. But I had to wait over an hour to be seen, while they took in people who arrived after I did. By the time I got in, I was stressed out and deeply annoyed — so much so that I suspect it threw off my test results.
Sometimes, I intentionally work at being more patient. I don’t jockey to gain another car length or two on a crowded freeway; I stay in my lane and take what it gives me. When another checkout line opens at the supermarket, I don’t jump at it.
And if there’s any silver lining to the pandemic of the last couple of years, I think it’s helped me to be at least a tad more patient.
Because, you know, it’s not like I’m in a hurry to get somewhere.
But that, I think, is the real problem. It’s not simply that I need more patience. It’s that I need to loosen the grip that “hurry-sickness” has on me. Living in a tech-saturated culture, I’ve been indoctrinated with the gospel of “faster is better.” I complain when one of my devices slows down, taking several seconds longer to boot up, or download a file, or connect to a website than it used to. Not minutes, mind you; not hours. Seconds. I easily fritter away much, much more time playing a game on my phone.
Many of you, I suspect, are like me. We could all use more patience, in the sense of less hurry-sickness, less of the irrational need to do things faster so we can waste more time on…well, whatever we waste time on. We know, moreover, that the Bible holds patience in high esteem. Paul, for example, leads with patience in his description of love (1 Cor 13:4), and includes patience in his description of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22).
Likewise, the apostle James writes:
Be patient, therefore, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. (James 5:7-8, NRSVUE)
So Christians should look forward to the return of Jesus, and be more patient, right?
Yes — but neither Paul nor James is talking about hurry-sickness. They’re talking about enduring suffering, not impatient annoyance or boredom. Thirty extra seconds on a “slow” Internet connection doesn’t count.
At root, the word translated as “patience” in all these cases literally means, as the King James sometimes has it, “long-suffering.” In the case of James, the words are mostly directed to poor believers who are being mistreated by the wealthier among them. They are ignored or dissed by the middle class, and abused by their upper-class employers. Be patient, he tells them. Strengthen your hearts. Jesus is coming.
Again, this kind of patience isn’t about waiting calmly for your social media feeds to load (though that wouldn’t hurt). It’s not about tamping down your resentment at the person in front of you who can’t find their credit card in the express checkout line. It’s about having a godly perspective on suffering and injustice, so as to respond with endurance and love.
And what is that perspective? We’ll lean further into James shortly. But in the next post, we’ll begin with what Jesus and Paul teach about the patience of God.