Practicing Patience As We Wait

Rev. Kolby Kerr   -  

This Advent, we’ve been blessed with wisdom from our bishop and some incredibly bright and generous Christian thinkers, writers, and pastors. Bishop Todd Hunter, bishop of our diocese, Churches for the Sake of Others, has produced a series of podcast episodes reflecting on the Advent season. They’ve all been wonderful, and I commend them to your podcast playlists, but Todd’s interview with author and priest Tish Harrison Warren resonated deeply with some of my own recent advent thoughts.

As the author of the bestselling book Liturgy of the Ordinary, Warren understands how necessarily embodied our spiritual lives are. We aren’t so much formed by the books we read or sermons we hear as we are by the daily habits and rhythms of our days that nudge us to see and experience the world through a particular script or set of values. In her conversation with Bishop Todd, she discusses how the liturgies of our days habituate our hearts into impatience. So much of our daily experience reinforces a sense of urgency and immediacy.

This habituation is deep and ever-encroaching. Amazon estimates that even a second-long delay in web page loads could cost them well over a billion dollars a year. Why? Because one second is enough time for us to become bored or frustrated and click away to something else. As an English teacher, I’m obligated to point out that the extreme competition for college admission requires students to sustain frantic schedules that disciple them in scanning across surfaces rather than diving deep into their academic work.

As Warren says, it’s part of our “idolatry of efficiency,” which of course is really just one more way of describing the perpetual human project of trying to be God. 

What can we do about this?

We want the solution to follow the formula of the problem–we want something immediate and efficient that fixes us. As Warren puts it: “We want to be zapped by sanctification.” 

Instead, we must be reminded that Jesus walked through this world at 3mph. He didn’t have a platform to spread his message instantly; his ‘followers’ were devoted friends. They didn’t scroll past his teachings alongside ads for underwear, but lived embodied, imperfect lives alongside him. We need to slow down to Godspeed.

Warren suggests that we can be discipled in patience by those who don’t have the privilege of impatience. As much as I complain that my children are impatient, the truth is that they have to wait all the time–their lives are contingent on the attention and choices of parents, teachers, and other adults that dictate their days. The poor, the aged, the disabled all have something to teach us about the experience of navigating a life that isn’t immediate or efficient. While we can lament and seek to make right injustices that lead to the barriers they face, we can and should also disciple ourselves to those Jesus repeatedly named as favored and blessed.

The stories of advent are all about patient waiting. Zechariah with his mouth stuck shut. Mary waiting nine long months from Gabriel’s announcement to this impossible arrival. They didn’t learn patience from an article. It was something they felt in their bodies each day, something they ached with, something that forced them to live within God’s patient kingdom.