The Necessary Slow & Unnoticed Work That We Must Do
I’m reading a book by Zack Eswine right now and the title’s byline is: Discovering joy in our limitations through a daily apprenticeship with Jesus.
Joy in our limitations?!!!??! You gotta be kidding me. My initial reaction to this idea is HELL-TO-THE-NO!
And yet, I know full well that life, like construction projects, always takes longer and costs more than we projected. Always. Life is full of the necessary slow and unnoticed work that we must do. Shall we talk about it?
Here’s a brief section from the chapter called Desire:
You want to do large things famous and fast. But most things that truly matter in life need small acts of overlooked love over a long period of time.
Many people believe that… love for God and neighbor is supposed to happen instantly.
Take an exasperated husband, for example. He said to me, “I just can’t take this; it’s too much! Either she deals with this issue, or it’s obvious that she doesn’t care about this marriage! I’m not going to put up with it anymore!
When he said this to me, he had been married a total of three months. The issue he referred to was six days old. He quoted the Bible and talked in epic terms about what God wants for a marriage and a life. Yet if he had to wait six days to fix this issue in the context of having been married for a total of eighty-nine days, it was obvious to him that God was not in the marriage or that his wife didn’t love him, and that he had to prepare to move on. This man can quote the Bible, but he has no stamina to wait upon God amid something that he does not like. For all the grand talk about stellar things that God wants, it does not occur to him how grand a thing God says it is to learn how to persevere and wait upon him. Many of us pastors express the same kind of emotional inability to wait on God in and for our congregations.
Our problem is that most of the God-given joys we seek get damaged when words like instantly and haste and impatience are thrown at us. Many of us are confused about what it means to have true joy if we have to embrace a delayed gratification amid the slower speeds required by the things that most matter to Jesus.
Now imagine loving God and others through the desolations of life. Desolation cannot easily endure an accelerated pastoral pace.
This explains why many of us have no patience for pastoral care. Broken bones and minds are not hurry prone.
Burned skin or victimized souls have to get to the miserable itching in order to heal, and we who wait by the bedside must wait some more. Death, grief, loss, recovery from addiction, as well as emotional or physical trauma, parenting special-needs kids, adjusting to chronic illness, depression, disability, or disease—all of these desolations are handled poorly when “efficiency” and “quantitative measures” are required of them.
To the important pastor doing large and famous things speedily, the brokenness of people actually feels like an intrusion keeping us from getting our important work for God done.
As a rule then (and this often surprises us), haste is no friend to desire.
The wise man says so, because “whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way” (Proverbs 19.2). His point is clear enough. Haste has a habit of not coming through on things that truly matter. In a crisis it can help. But when it comes to understanding, sorting out, and fulfilling the desires of a human soul, haste constantly and legitimately gets sued for malpractice. Haste offers immediate promises to our desires for a mate or ministry or work or our kids, but haste actually can never deliver on these promises for what is most precious to us.
The point I’m no making is this. Our desire for greatness… isn’t the problem. Our problem rises from how the hast of doing large things, famously and as fast as we can, is reshaping our definition of what a great thing is.
Desire greatness… but bend your definition of greatness to the one Jesus gives us.
At minimum, we must begin to take a stand on this one important fact: obscurity and greatness are not opposites.
Love that last line.
Brian, you are a book reading machine! I have so many great titles and authors on my list from reading your blog and other blogs you’ve referenced. Right now I’m reading Naomi Shibab Nye. Wow.
The most meaningful line in this post for me: “Broken bones and minds are not hurry prone.” Healing – true healing – takes time. Even with miracles of physical healing, the mind must recover from woundings of the body. During my life I’ve noticed that most healing takes place over a span of weeks, months or years. Often, we need others to walk with us on that perilous path of vulnerability toward greater wholeness. To hold us up when we stumble, to listen to our pained cries without being judgy or impatient, to celebrate small wins, and to simply say, “I’m sorry it hurts and I’m here for you.” To understand that everyone is different in how they grow and reach for the light.
While I’m not a big Bible thumper (producing a scripture at every opportunity, whether appropriate or not) I am reminded of 1 Cor 13: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” Seems to me that the hardest thing to learn is what love really looks like.