Make Time for Patience to Grow This Season
My wife, Sara, was dreading Black Friday. I prayed for her through her whole nine-hour shift. So when she got home from the store just before 10:00 last night, I was surprised to see her smiling and looking fully refreshed.
It’s her first Christmas season working at Cabela’s, the big-box hunting/fishing/camping store, and she, too, was surprised at how patient the customers were — even when the system for buying merchandise with “points” went down for a while.
She has a theory, and I say it makes sense, though we have no way to test it. Her store’s customers spend time outdoors. They sit in boats or stand in streams, waiting for fish to bait. They wait in deer blinds. They sit by campfires. They know — and not just by head knowledge — that not everything has to happen in an instant.
A Slower Sort of Busy
It takes longer to pitch a tent than to check into a motel room; longer to light a fire, let it simmer down to embers, and cook a camp meal than it does to pick up a burger at the drive-through. They take that time. They make themselves take that time. And in the process they learn patience — the same patience that can carry a person through Black Friday.
Used to be, it wasn’t necessary to be so intentional about making that kind of time. It’s a two-hour drive from Capernaum to Jerusalem. Jesus traveled that journey more than once — except He walked it. The short route by foot covers a very hilly one hundred miles, a trip He and His disciples would have done well to make in four days.
They would have been days with nothing to do but walk, step after step after step; to observe the very slowly changing scenery; to listen; to absorb the feel of the wind, the sun, the infrequent rains; to take in the fragrance of the land and the animals; to talk, to laugh, to think, to pray.
That’s how Joseph and Mary came to Bethlehem, too. Maybe we should make the slow pace of their journey part of our Advent story, too. It would be quite an adjustment in our holidays.
The Productivity of Producing Slowly
Yet this is what we were made for. The pre-industrial world had to have been busier than ours, with everything taking so much longer to accomplish; but it would have been a slower sort of busy, the kind that provides fertile ground for producing patience. For patience, like humility, grows in us only when we’re working on something else. Something slow, for which we can’t control every outcome; or which won’t come quickly, no matter how hard we push on it.
I’ve bought firewood from the convenience store, $4.00 to the bundle. I’ve also gone out with neighbors to fell trees and cut them to length ourselves — enough wood to heat our Big Bear Lake, California homes for an entire high-mountain winter. We used chainsaws, of course — who knows how long it would’ve taken with crosscut saws? — but I split it with my own ax. I learned the truth of the old adage that firewood warms you twice — once when you chop it, and again when it’s in the wood stove.
And I believe I was learning something else, too: Not everything has to happen in an instant. That learning only comes through experience. Slowly. Sure you can read about it, sure; but that level of learning won’t sustain you through Black Friday, much less life’s truly demanding periods of waiting.
Make Time to Reflect and Remember
That experience is becoming harder and harder to come by — for all of us. I didn’t go to the library to research the distance from Capernaum to Jerusalem. I don’t have to wait weeks to get this article published. If I get hungry this afternoon while my wife is working her next shift at the store, I can take my pick of three fast-food burger outlets within a mile of here.
So that’s why I think Sara might be on the right track, thinking there’s something about the outdoor life that builds patience. It’s the best way I know of to make sure we slow ourselves down.
Now, I’m not saying we should all go camping this month. That would be another failed attempt at rushing patience anyway. Maybe for now the best we can do is to remember and to reflect; to think on Joseph and Mary’s long journey, perhaps.
They weren’t wasting time walking to Bethlehem. It’s not only because they had no vehicle to get them there faster. It’s because God has a work to do in us while we’re working on something else. Even while we’re standing in line with our Christmas shopping.
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream, and the author of A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christ and Critical Conversations: A Christian Parent’s Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens, and the lead editor of True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism.