Patience was the subject of a famous prayer by St Francis of Assisi: “Lord, give me patience, and hurry up about it.” And he lived in an age where there were no cars, no telephones, no electricity, and other labour and time-saving devices which are staple parts of our lives. In an era when almost everything is available at the end of a telephone line, or at the touch of a button, we are conditioned to things being delivered quickly.
I have learned a new perspective on patience over these last few weeks. I felt so well in the first week after surgery (or at least, not as bad as I expected I might feel) that I thought the second week would be plain sailing. When the recovery did not come as quickly as presumed, I found myself struggling. My mind was ready to go and do a host of things, but my body was saying no. Patience is needed.
Patience is waiting. Something we have lost the conditioning for. We like the convenience of having everything at our fingertips. When we wait, we are reminded that we are in someone else’s control; that there are things we cannot conjure up in our own strength and ingenuity. To wait is to defer to another, to be dethroned as-it-were, from the belief that we are at the centre of all.
For centuries the people of Israel waited for the coming Messiah. Many circumstances provided fertile soil for the fulfilment of this expectation: a time in exile, restoration to the land, rebuilding the walls of the city, and the temple. Yet each expectation was met with silence. Had God forgotten His promise to His people? When would He send His Anointed One? When God fulfilled His promise, many missed it. They had given up waiting, or spent so much time in speculation as to create an expectation so different to the reality that they could not perceive Him.
Patient waiting is ever a part of the journey of faith. It is a submission to the will, whim and purpose of God. To wait with empty hands for God to fill is an emphatic statement of faith in a world so consumed with being in control, and shaping one’s own destiny. It takes great strength and courage to wait, character missing in King Saul (see 1 Samuel 13), yet evident in Gideon (Judges 7).
In this Advent season we are reminded of the importance of waiting, and of the power and strength that it gives. In our busy lives, it becomes increasingly important to set time aside to wait on God.
December 9, 2001