Patience like a river

Posted 5/22/20

During this global pandemic, we have witnessed terrible suffering not only by those who are sick and dying, but also by those experiencing financial hardship. More then 36 million people have lost …

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Patience like a river

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During this global pandemic, we have witnessed terrible suffering not only by those who are sick and dying, but also by those experiencing financial hardship. More then 36 million people have lost their jobs. Many do not have access to the stimulus funds. In light of such suffering and worry, I understand the desire to reopen the economy. The coronavirus threatens both our lives and livelihoods.

And yet the best and most credible public health officials warn that we will do more harm by rushing to reopen. This is a time for patience.

I don’t like that word, “patience.” It brings a certain biblical character to mind. The patience of Job. The word “patience” can mean “long-suffering” and this ancient man suffered the loss of nearly everything — his loved ones, his wealth, and his own health. Tragically, many people can relate today.

There are many people who have suffered more than me. But this has been a difficult time for my little family. Between my wife and me, we are trying to manage two churches and three children. I’m not tired of waiting to reopen, for waiting is in the best interests for those who are high-risk for infection and those who care for the sick. Honestly, I’m just plain tired.

Every night, after reading books to my young sons, I get down on all fours so the 7-year-old and the 4-year-old can jump on my back. I am the horse and they are the knights! But lately, I have been moving more slowly. The other night, my older son matter-of-factly informed me that I was now a cow! And my new name was Old Bessie!

Maybe you can’t teach an old cow new tricks, but I’ve summoned enough energy to reexamine this word “patience” in hopes that I might discover a new, more life-giving perspective. I learned that the Latin root for “patience” was used by the Romans not to describe humans, but rivers. How might we be patient like a river?

Often when told to be patient, we feel like we are stuck and helpless to do anything. This feeling causes weariness, even despair.

Yet the river is always moving. Slowly yet surely, the river changes the land around it. A river always makes a difference whether the effect is seen or not.

Thinking of the patience of a river, I recall Norman Maclean’s beautiful novel, “A River Runs Through It.” That father is a fly-fisherman and also a Presbyterian pastor. He believed that all good things — trout as well as eternal salvation — come by grace and do not come easily. That’s the paradox, two things that seem to be opposites that hold together as one. Grace is something that is freely given, yet we often have to wait for it. There are no shortcuts to love.

Especially in difficult times, it’s hard to see the effects of gradual change. But in six months, a year, a decade from now, I wonder what we will see when we look back on this time? Certainly, we will remember the suffering. I hope we will remember the brave women and men who helped to alleviate it. Will we remember how we were patient? Will we see the difference that we made and the lives that we saved by being slow and steady?

You may be tired. But take it from Old Bessie: a river of patience makes a Grand Canyon of difference.


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