IVP - Strangely Dim - The Goodness of Slowness

January 30, 2009

The Goodness of Slowness

Monday, as you may know, is Groundhog Day. (Or, as my desk calendar says, "Ground Hog Day," which, it seems to me, would be a very different sort of holiday--more of a Spam Fest day. Which is just gross.) So on Monday, people (weatherpeople and newscasters? I'm not sure who attends this august affair) will gather around the hole of Phil, "the only true weathercasting groundhog," in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to see if he sees his shadow. If he does, most of Chicago will dig their own holes and cry for the next six weeks. If he doesn't, spring will come early (Joy! Rapture!).

Now, don't get me wrong. I actually like living in a place that has four distinct seasons. But about this time of year (or, in the case of this particular year, about a month ago), I'm ready for spring. You can only scrape ice off your car in the dark in below-zero temperatures a certain number of times before you start to feel like you're going to throw up. (You don't throw up, of course, because whatever you ate is now frozen inside your stomach, but the gag reflex kicks in.)

So I'm thinking of taking a little trip to PA this weekend, to have a little chat with Phil. Nothing overly serious, of course. Just some encouragement and cheerleading (Phil! Phil! He's our groundhog! If he can't do it--we might have to hurt him), maybe a little sweet talk to make sure he understands the urgency of not seeing his shadow--or, if he thinks he will see his shadow, the importance of not coming out at all. (If groundhog no come out, groundhog no see shadow.)

I'm realizing that that's my approach to many situations. I admit it: I'm a control freak. And I love tangible progress. I mean, I really love it. I crave it. I start to suffocate without--okay, you get the point. So when things don't seem to be moving along as quickly as I'd like--or, say, when winter is dragging on and on and on and on--I get tempted to "help," just to speed things up a little.

And then a few weeks ago I read these words from 1 Peter: "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (3:8-9). To be honest, the verses make me a little testy. I'd like to ask Peter how else I'm supposed to understand slowness, other than what I know. Slowness is slowness, as in, it's not fast. I don't know any other way to understand it!! And thanks for the reminder that, for all I know, in God's timeless mind frame, we in the Midwest haven't even had a whole day of winter yet! I feel the gag reflex kicking in.

I know Peter is talking about Christ's return and the salvation of humans in verses 8 and 9, but the principles about God are true of other circumstances: his view of time is very different from ours, and he is more than willing to take his sweet time--as long as it takes, in fact--to teach us something until we know it, until it transforms us to be a little more like his Son. The thing is, it feels virtually impossible in our instant-gratification culture to understand the goodness of slowness, to be patient with the process and see how much we can grow in it. So, when I pray about something--a friend's discouragement, a student's pain, a marriage I know of that's not doing well--I expect to see: something. And if I don't, though I might keep praying, I'll brainstorm ways I can "help" God along. In a few cases, I have stopped praying and instead cried out to God in anger at his seeming slowness in helping. And then I assigned myself the responsibility of caring for the person (because obviously I can do a better job).

The problem with my system--okay, the multiple problems with my system--are that (a) God loves the person infinitely more than I ever could, (b) he knows them infinitely better than I ever could, and (c) he's infinitely wiser than I will ever be. So trying to take their growth into my own hands without waiting on God may actually hinder them from learning what he wants them to learn and hearing him speak.

The past few months have been a lesson in humility and trust--trusting God to take care of others and move in their lives at the time and pace that he knows is best. It's hard, but I'm learning the value of waiting on the Lord for others--of committing people to him consistently and then discerning whether and in what way he wants to use me to help them. Just in the past few months, as I'm learning to wait, God has given me the gracious gift of seeing and hearing (from their mouths) his work in others--the perfect ways he's leading them without my "help." These glimpses help me trust him a little more each time I see them.

Though I'm certainly not cured of my ways, I'm already seeing how much pressure this takes off. I don't have to figure out how to help others and move them along; I can simply be free to love them without judging their "progress," to encourage them to keep listening to God, to celebrate with them as they share what he's doing.

I can see that this lesson I'm learning is part of his good, slow work in me right now. And I guess in this case, I can be glad for his view of time, because even if it takes me a thousand days to grasp this humility and trust--he might still think I'm a fast learner.
Posted by Lisa Rieck at January 30, 2009 2:51 PM Bookmark and Share


Thanks, Lisa. I needed to hear that. I am in a situation where trusting God is very hard. I'm definitely a DO person; waiting is difficult.

Comment by: Danielle at January 30, 2009 10:55 PM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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