My work regularly requires me to create something from nothing. Whether it is a lecture for a class, an article, a chapter in a book, a sermon, if I don’t do anything, nothing will happen. The same thing for bigger events like missionary home assignment, schedules for visiting parishes and supporters, or even back here in Kenya, an entire job description, where the contours are agreed upon but the details are entirely blank. This kind of life requires a lot of initiative, a lot of pushing, a lot of trial and ever-accompanying error.
I have not always been very good at this way of life, but I have gotten better at it over the years. So much so that I can coast along quite efficiently about the tasks at hand, or, to use another metaphor from a circus act, I’ve gotten pretty good at keeping a bunch of plates spinning on top of sticks. Sure I have the obligatory prayer rule and service attendance. But they are all contained within that bubble of things that I control, that I make happen.
Although I, and possibly others as well, prefer to maintain the illusion of living in contexts that we can control, I think we all know that life constantly conspires to throw us out of our bubbles. While there are many different scenarios that can send us reeling, I am experiencing one this week that, while one of the more simple factors that arise to disturb one’s equilibrium, I am also finding it a powerful tool in that process of theosis, of becoming more and more like God in our character, our choices, our love. The opportunity comes about when one is faced with circumstances over which one has no control. And at it’s most basic level, it is caused by the act of having to wait. Waiting itself is neither good nor bad. Rather benefit comes when waiting becomes a mirror that reflects our heart.
I have become reacquainted with waiting this week. I have spent hours waiting through a two day process of clearing my air freight through Kenya customs. I have spent another two days of waiting in the Kenya government’s immigration processes. I have also been reacquainted with the traffic on Nairobi roads. And as I write this I am in my third day of waiting for my car’s broken transmission issues to be remedied so I can move to Kisumu. In each of these situations I have been faced with circumstances over which I have no control, circumstances that have prevented me from doing what I would rather be doing. And in the process of this forced waiting, I am allowing myself to see that I have some issues of the heart that I was previously paying no attention to.
I have realised that I am impatient - wanting thing done according to my schedule and according to my plan. I have realised that I am easily angered and cross when things don’t go my way. I have realised that I have a tart tongue (the older way of putting it)/am snarky when dealing with people whose attitude I don’t like (an altercation with a security guard at the customs place comes to mind). I have realised that I am a pro at allowing perceived grievances against another to justify my own wrong ways of dealing with it. I realise that I have been rushing through my own prayers (as I coast along) and by doing so holding God at arm’s length hoping that God will not notice my selfishness and my self-centeredness. It should not surprise anyone that God in his mercy is not so easily distracted by my ridiculous evasions. Which is probably why I am having such a bumper crop of opportunities to wait.
When my agenda was being thwarted by the events engulfing each of the enumerated items on my to-do list earlier this week, I was feeling frustrated. Already exhausted by travel and reentry, my attempts to push through, to accomplish all the ‘necessary’ things on my agenda exhausted me, and I have felt spiritually empty. But in God’s mercy I have realised that all this is actually a grace moment that I can embrace or shove aside. Waiting has given me a chance to be reacquainted with myself and what’s really going on in my heart. Being sidelined from the rush of my self-imposed deadlines gives me a chance to see a reflection of my essential soul. And being reacquainted I realised anew how still dominated by my selfishness I am, and as a result how sick I am, how in need of a Saviour I am.
The world rushes by around me. I should be in Kisumu now, unpacking my things, kitting out a kitchen, huddling with the Bishop about what the next weeks hold. But instead I am lying on my bed in my empty room in Nairobi, looking in the mirror, for a change. Grateful for the God-given delay, for a change.