A Season of Urgent Patience | Sojourners

A Season of Urgent Patience

On the morning of Nov. 7, just hours after polling places closed and as votes continued to be counted, the national attention seemed to simultaneously switch from projected winners to the issues that deserved immediate attention. Instead of speculation surrounding which candidates may emerge victorious, many expressed the need for swift action on climate change, job creation, and education reform. The meticulous analysis of exit polls was abruptly replaced with calls for change surrounding immigration, taxes, and sustainable peace in the Middle East. Wwithin moments of receiving the news of Election Day winners, the general public swiftly switched its collective attention to matters of the immediate future. 

In light of the various challenges facing our national and global community, there are indeed numerous issues that require the immediate attention of our elected officials.  And our newly re-elected president, as well as others placed into public service, should be called upon for genuine cooperation, fair action, and immediate impact.  

But while urgency is required in light of pressing concerns, an overindulgence of immediacy also contains a long list of shortcomings. Discipline and patience are required to bring forth intellectual depth, balanced consideration, and lasting compassion.  As humans are more inclined to favor short-term over long-term rewards, the virtue of patience should be appreciated for its many worthwhile benefits.     

And so we recognize that urgency and patience should not be viewed as opposing forces, but rather, they exist as connected companions — or as the famed basketball coach John Wooden once remarked, “Be quick, but don’t hurry."  

In other words, there are moments when immediate action is essential to prevent lasting harm, yet urgency without patience leads to short-sightedness, impulsiveness, rashness, and even disaster. On the other hand, patience without urgency can lead to complacency, procrastination, lack of action, and of course, disaster. And so, whether it is national policy decisions or the complexities of daily life choices, we live within the dual tensions of urgency and patience, and we strive for a faithful fusion of both characteristics. If we tip the scales too far in either direction we risk the dangers of disaster, yet a steady mixture leads to a healthy cycle of spiritual reflection and sustained social action. 

As people of faith we recognize – and commemorate – the relationship of urgency and patience through the liturgical season of Advent, which begins in many Christian denominations this Sunday. The word “advent,” which comes from the Latin adventus, means “coming," — thus the season of Advent is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth on Christmas Day. As we dwell within a North American culture that too often prizes instantaneous communication, information, and gratification (and premature Christmas celebrations), such an emphasis upon patience, waiting, and expectation is indeed necessary, as we hear in Psalm 46:10, “… be still and know that I am God.”  

And so, during the season of Advent we embrace the blessings associated with divine anticipation, and in doing so, we accept – and rejoice in – the wisdom, faith, and maturity that accompanies a persistent practice of patience.

While patience is indeed a key feature of Advent, the season also emphasizes the crucial role of urgency within our journey of faith.  In other words, while urgency without patience can result in a disastrous nightmare, patience without urgency can lead to a disastrous daydream. And so, the season of Advent reveals that patience requires a counterbalance of urgency, and we receive such an offset most profoundly from the Gospel of Mark, which repeatedly uses the Greek term euthos, translated as “straight away, immediately.”  Euthos is used 40 times in Marks’ Gospel, which shows a need to embrace the blessed immediateness offered as a response to God’s love.  While patience is a key feature of Advent, we also recognize the counterpoint of urgency, thus we are given a vibrant Advent of solitude and service that leads to a deeper personal faith and wider public response.

Whether it is personal decisions or political directives, we dwell within the tensions of patience and urgency, for both are incomplete on their own, and each leads to disaster when taken to the irresponsible extreme. 

During the upcoming season of Advent we ask God to provide us with a full portion of urgent patience. While immediate action is sometimes required, especially during moments of crisis, such urgency should not take place at the risk of wisdom, thoughtfulness, and sustainable livelihoods. And while contemplation and meditation are indeed vital, we recognize that certain moments in time call us to push forward even when all the information has yet to be gathered, and during such moments we proceed with the blessed assurance that God is with us.  

In response to our appetite for short-term gain at the expense of long-term benefit, and in light of all the important matters deserving of our immediate attention, may we live within the blessed tensions of urgency and patience during this season of Advent, and in doing so, may God give us a full portion of urgent patience for the journey ahead.

Brian E. Konkol is an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), serves as Co-Pastor of Lake Edge Lutheran Church (Madison, Wis.), and is a PhD candidate in Theology & Development with the University of KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa).

Photo: Christmas countdown illustration, © Jiri Hera | View Portfolio, Shutterstock.com