Something about slow work

I’m (occasionally) reading through a book Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart – 30 true things you need to know now. It’s an eloquent and incisive read but, at the end of the day, it probably fits most neatly in the ‘pop-psychology’ genre. I’m ever learning though: truth can be found in a multitude of places. It’s available to everyone. And it points us to God.

In a society based on consumption, instant gratification’s easy to spot. We crave instant results. We want to drop 10kg in the first week of our diet. We want to run 10km without training (and without blisters). We want to experience intimacy without investing time.

A friend told me recently of the number of people standing in line for Australian Idol who proudly boasted they’d never had a singing lesson, yet couldn’t sing to save themselves either. We don’t want reward for effort; we want a manifold return for simply showing up.

Gordon Livingstone, the author of the book I mentioned earlier, reflects this thought:

Somewhere along the line we became an impatient people, expecting quick answers to our difficulties…

The process of building has always been slower and more complicated than that of destruction. Wisdom is gifted over time. Love grows richer over time. Investments mature over time. Fitness accrues one step at a time. Degrees are acquired one lecture, unit, exam at a time.

While epiphanies, miracles and supernatural interventions are a reality for the People of God, the greater part of our journey is a steady walk—the glad ox, as my friend Brad puts it. One foot in front of the other. A deep furrow of wholeness, discipline, love and community.

While the initial reorientation prompted by repentance may be a radical change, it is honed by degrees. One foot in front of the other.

We crave the miracle relationship and the serendipitous chance meeting with our soon-to-be-lifetime-soulmate. And granted, these moments happen. Thank God. Yet there is still a journey of soulcraft that invariably precipitates that glittering moment. A steady refining of the character that makes union a possibility. A refining that leads to people finding joy in each other and in God that didn’t come cheaply or without change.

Eugene Peterson, in Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, writes sweetly:

We are here to be formed over our lifetimes into a community of the beloved, God’s beloved who are being formed into a people who love God and one another in the way and on the terms in which God loves us. It’s slow work. We are slow learners. And though God is unendingly patient with us, we are not very patient with ourselves or one another.

Our transformation is daily and requires what Petersen articulates Paul’s word to the church at Rome as passionate patience. Passionate patience is not grim or masochistic—it’s laden with hope and expectation. It’s not a come-back-in-a-year-and-see-what-happened kind of patience; it’s the watchman waiting, it’s the lighthouse keeper monitoring every movement to see what might happen next. And it’s active. Passion is active. There’s work to be done in the waiting and in the walking…and we’re not shy about that work.

And just because the journey of goodness is gradual, it doesn’t mean it’s boring. It’s good. Both in the moment and along the way. It can be a wild ride of gradual goodness. And increasingly good. Albeit with excursions and tangents, excuses and sidestreets, but also with a rich, evolving, integrated story.

The prophet Habukkuk wrote:

Write this. Write what you see. Write it out in big block letters so that it can be read on the run. This vision-message is a witness pointing to what’s coming. It aches for the coming—it can hardly wait! And it doesn’t lie. If it seems slow in coming, wait. It’s on its way. It will come right on time.

Bad things tend to happen quickly. Good things take time. Take your time.

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