Several weeks ago Time Magazine ran a cover story on the growing epidemic of aggressive driving on America’s highways, the clinical name being Road Rage, “America’s car sickness du jour.” The article cited a recent survey in which sixty-four percent of the respondents said they are driving less courteously and more dangerously than they were five years ago; in another survey an astounding 80% of drivers said they are angry most of the time they are behind the wheel.1
This is an interesting phenomenon because so many of us in our country are doing so well right now. “It may be morning in America,” the magazine reported, “crime down, incomes up, inflation nonexistent, but it’s high noon on the country’s streets and highways… Then why do we drive like such jerks? The most common answer: What do you mean we, Kemo Sabe?… There [are] only three types of people on the road these days: the insane (those who drive faster than you), the moronic (those who drive slower), and… you.” I just spent four hours on I-95 this weekend and I can agree with that.
But since this is the first Sunday in Lent, a season of repentance, I repent of my own occasional “road rage.” It is not easy being the only driver out there who knows what they’re doing behind the wheel.
In all seriousness, though, I believe that this article on aggressive driving gets at something deeply embedded within our current cultural environment: a general, harried inability to wait patiently upon the world. As you’ve heard me admonish before, we are racing through our lives like we’re driving for the checkered flag at Daytona. We act as if time were our own personal possession and, like money, we never seem to have enough to satisfy us. So, whether we’re driving the car on an over-crowded road or standing in a long line at the grocery store check-out, we get agitated. Some of us get impatient just waiting the ten seconds it takes for our computers to get us access on the Internet. And God forbid we catch a red light when we’re in a hurry. We are an impatient people.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. We had been led to believe that the better off we all were, the more time we would have to enjoy the rest of life outside of work. But a terrible irony of the late 20th century is that as we have become more productive and more prosperous in this post-industrial society, we have actually felt more pressed for time because we have so many things in our lives to fill it; we have become less able to sit still, to rest, to be leisurely, to be present to others, to be thankful and worshipful before God. I recently read a quotation from Bill Gates, the multi-billionaire of Microsoft fame and the paradigm of American business success: “Just in terms of time resources, religion isn’t very efficient. There is a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.”
I wonder if Jesus begins to wonder during his forty days of fasting and praying in the wilderness if this time is not a very efficient use of his time resources? I wonder if Jesus gets impatient? I know I would have gone crazy out there all alone for so long with nothing to do but feel hungry, swat at bugs, look out for various reptiles, itch, and wait on God. And I suspect that a big part of his temptation out in the desert was just to throw in the towel, to quit wasting time and get busy doing what he thought he needed to do. I have an image of the devil whispering in Jesus’ ears, “come on now, you’ve been out here long enough. Hurry up and come along. Let me show you all the great things I have in store for you. Why all this waiting around when I can promise you wealth, and power and security.” Sounds better than starving all alone in the desert, that’s for sure.
But Jesus says no, because Jesus is the paradigm of patience. Following his baptism, rather than immediately setting out to heal and to teach and to preach, Jesus’ first act of ministry is to go into the wilderness for forty days to be alone, to pray and listen to God and patiently wait on God’s initiative. He understands at this early point in his ministry as God’s messiah, that being patient is not inaction, but rather preparation for action. Jesus knows that before he is to act for God, he must be present to God, before he can be available to us as the Christ, he must first make himself completely available to the will of God.
The essence of patience is availability, making ourselves
available to God, to others, as well as making ourselves truly available to ourselves. I have a feeling that we have bought “hook, line and sinker” into the false notion that our value as people depends on our doing things, on what we accomplish, on our busily acting upon the world rather than be thankful recipients of much what the world brings our way. This is why sudden unemployment for many can become not just a financial crisis, but a spiritual crisis of identity. We ask, who are we if we don’t have a task to do, forgetting that who we essentially are is already defined in baptism which comes for most of us as babies well before we have to do anything for ourselves.
We are less likely to make ourselves available to family, friends, or colleagues, much less to God, if we are convinced that our worth as human beings depends on how much work we get done in a 24-hour span. Consequently, when we should be taking time out to be thankful for what we already have been given, we are busily striving for more. Rather than just being thankful that we have a nice automobile, we get angry that it doesn’t come equipped with a rocket launcher for use against the car going too slow in front of us in the left lane.
Chronic impatience is also a way of avoiding things in our lives that aren’t quite right. Do you know that the root meaning of patience has to do with suffering? Patience is about perserverence, forbearance, suffering endurance, of course all qualities we associate with Jesus. And so impatience is at least in part an avoidance of suffering and pain.
We all know what this means. If we just keep ourselves busy, we won’t have time to face the problems and brokenness in our lives. We can avoid the problems in our marriage by working late at the office every night. We can avoid the painful work of reconciling with those who have hurt us if we never find the time to meet with them. Frequently occasions of grief are eased by staying busy so there is less time to be consumed by our sense of loss.
Being consumed with busyness and our impatience at outside interruptions of our time feed a deep-seated desire in all of us to believe that all is right with the world. Well, let’s be honest, all is not completely right with any of us. And Lent is the time to get straight about that, to spend some extra time with God, prayerfully getting in touch with our sins, our hurts, and all our regrets we can’t seem to let go of.
Patience – it is at the heart of faithfulness. Again and again the Bible tells us that God is nothing if not patient: “You, O Lord, are gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34.6 and elsewhere). And here is Jesus this morning in the desert, patiently enduring the devil’s temptations to be less available the plans of God. Notice all the times in the Gospels that Jesus patiently takes time out of his active ministry to be present to others in their time of need, particularly the sick and the outcast. And of course, as we journey with Jesus through Lent, we cannot help being aware of his patient endurance as he submits to the rejection and suffering of the cross for our sake.
I love that old story of St. Frances of Assisi and his young earnest disciple who is eager to accompany him on a journey through neighboring villages. On their arrival at the first village Francis and his disciple go to the market place. The young disciple assumes this is a good place to begin preaching the gospel, but nothing really happens. Frances just hangs out with the people, chatting and eating, before moving on the next village. The same thing happens there, and in the next village and the next. Finally, the frustrated disciple asks in exasperation why they have passed on so many good opportunities to preach the gospel. St. Frances looks at his young disciple and says, “Haven’t we been doing just that as we have been walking and talking and eating with all our new friends?” Receiving the gospel involves patient availability – to God, to others, and to whatever is hidden on our hearts.
You can tell it’s Lent very often by the hand gestures from the pulpit. There is a lot more of this sort of gesticulation (finger waving) in Lent. Sermons get a little “churchy” this time of year. But I would ask you to consider as a Lenten discipline just taking a moment out of each day to do two quick things: make yourself available to God by giving thanks for a something good in your life that you may too often take for granted; and secondly take a second to confess to God something that is not so good, perhaps a part of your life that you have been ignoring, hoping your busyness would make it go eventually away.
This season of Lent is a brake on our normal cruising speed. Lent is a traffic jam lasting forty days calling us to give up control of the wheel, to walk off the highway for a while, to sit still in the wilderness alone with God where we can confess that we have not been patient in letting God into our lives to share our thanksgiving for what is good or to ask for forgiveness and healing for what is not. Let us remember that Lent is our opportunity to renew our availability to the loving kindness of God, from whom all good things come and all bad things may be healed. Amen.
“Road Rage,” Time Magazine, January 12, 1998 issue, Vol. 151, No. 1.