As my colleague explained the mechanics of muting and unmuting on Zoom for what seemed like the millionth time to the members of her church, a weary congregant replied, “Please be patient with me. I’ve never been old before.” Several folks chuckled in response, but the statement reminded my colleague that what her ministry needs most right now, far and above new programs or technology, is patience.
Most of us can relate to the statement of the frustrated congregant. We have never been this old before. We have never experienced so many new things at once before. We have never had to juggle so many responsibilities while mitigating COVID-19 risks. We have never had to analyze so much data to make seemingly simple decisions about our travel or gatherings. I serve as a hospice chaplain and one of my patients, a 103-year-old with enviable pep, shared with me that the pandemic has been the most difficult period of her life. I was surprised to hear her say this because she previously shared some turbulent and tragic experiences. When I asked her to tell me more, she said, “In those other times everyone close to me wasn’t a threat to my health. I got to hug. I got to go to church. I got to travel freely and go on my annual tour of rhododendron gardens. Now all my visitors have to meet me on my porch and stay at least six feet away.” Her insight reminded me that whether we are 3 or 103, we are all navigating a new and difficult reality in the wake of this global pandemic. And our most powerful navigation tool is patience.
Patience is easy to preach but so difficult to practice. This new year offers us a chance to begin practicing patience with ourselves. In practicing patience, we give ourselves permission to grieve and fully feel the emotional impacts of our shifting world. Many of us are dealing with significant grief and trauma, and while we all may not have experienced the death of a loved one, each of us has experienced the interruption of our patterns and routines. The traditions that anchored us remain in flux. The news constantly reminds us of labor shortages, rising prices and spikes in COVID cases. Yet, Christ calls us to the path of peace that is paved with patience.
In becoming more patient with ourselves, we are led to offer more grace to others. Patience isn’t simply waiting. As Henri Nouwen writes, it is “an active waiting in which we live the present moment to the full in order to find there the signs of the One we are waiting for.” Living in the present moment requires that we have the patience to observe and mourn what we’ve lost in order to move toward a better future. Possibly a future where we all have a little more patience when we err with the mute button yet again.