April 19th 2020
...we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert to whatever God will do next...
- Romans 5:3, The Message
A daughter of a colleague works at a local restaurant in a suburban town outside of Camden, NJ. Some restaurants have closed since the outbreak of the coronavirus, others have pivoted to Delivery or Take-Out Only options. The past three weeks have been brutally slow.
Last Friday night, for whatever reason, business picked up. The combination of a beautiful spring evening with a local population tired of cooking, led to a boom in orders. Skeleton staffs of hourly workers were overwhelmed—delivery requests to local homes were delayed.
“My daughter arrived home exhausted,” shared my friend. “But she was also distraught by the behavior of some customers. People berated the workers for their slow delivery.”
“Wait a minute,” I interrupted, somewhat shocked, “People were rude to the workers?”
“Yes,” she replied. “Waiting 2 hours for their sushi, instead of 30 minutes, was too much of an inconvenience.”
Berating restaurant workers—who must continue working despite potential health dangers—preparing California rolls and sashimi for people inconvenienced by three weeks of cooking at home....we need to pause for a minute.
An old friend sent me a quote last week: “Crisis doesn’t create character; crisis reveals character.” I don’t agree entirely, but the point is obvious. Warren Buffet puts it another way: “You don’t know who’s swimming naked until the tide goes out.” The tide is going out, my friends. Stress and trouble reveal character—or lack thereof. This might be an opportunity to open our eyes and see what kind of swimwear we’ve got on.
In addition to my work in Camden this past week, I’m constantly communicating with our affiliate leaders in multiple African countries. Trust me, they’re not worrying about delayed sashimi orders. They’re worrying about no government stimulus packages, no unemployment, potential anarchy, no ventilators, no refrigeration, and no ability to stockpile food so they can social distance. If the virus hits big, it’ll be apocalyptic. Suffering unimaginable. I find this perspective sobering.
My concern for those of us living in the United States is that many will miss this teachable moment. For many, it’s the first time in our lives that we’ve been majorly inconvenienced—an occurrence happening in developing countries and under-resourced American urban communities daily. Our privilege has been interrupted. How will we respond? Will we use this moment to identify with the sufferings of others, develop greater depths of empathy and learn true patience?
What I love about the Bible is it’s always challenging the reader to go deeper, to look inward, to find purpose in the moment and to do some “soul work.” It’s the Bible where we bump into characters like the apostle Paul who say audacious things like “....troubles can develop passionate patience.” Really?
Yes it can.
Troubles can teach us patience—but only if we’re courageous enough to stop blaming others, hold the mirror to our lives and do some internal work.
Confronting our selfishness and privilege takes courage. Transferring our fear and anxiety onto the teenager who forgets to place a straw in our take-out bag with our chocolate milkshake is a cheap and easy substitute for what we’re called to do in moments like these.
Love is patient, says Paul famously to the church of Corinth. Let’s pray that our current adversity is transformed into a gift—a gift that “....forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next.”