A Troubling Virtue
Father’s Day brought a flood of memories about my dad and namesake Forrest Edward Wells (my middle name is different than his and is my mother’s maiden name, but that is a story for another time). Dad was the son of a coal miner and steel worker. He was in high school during the depression and worked for five hours in a bakery BEFORE school to help support the family. He served in World War II and then entered a lifetime career in public education, primarily focusing on special education.
I learned a lot from my dad, most of it good! The phrases he sometimes used stuck with me. There were substitute phrases for swear words, I never heard anyone in my family ever utter a profanity. But “horse feather,” “kiss my foot” and “don’t that beat the bugs a-fightin’” were common utterances in times of frustration. Wisdom sayings abounded – easier said than lived out. “Rome wasn’t built in a day” was a phrase inviting patience -- to me one of the hardest and most troubling of virtues. I’m more of an impatient, I want it done now type of person. And yet, the world doesn’t work that way. Dad knew that; the Bible knows that too. “Patience” is listed as the fourth in the virtues/fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5. I like Romans 12:12: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”
COVID-19 has forced us to be patient, or at least wait for life to return “to normal.” But waiting compounded by job loss and economic hardship has become a toxic recipe. The human race isn’t good at being patient, so we rush back to work, or ease the pain of this time through increased alcohol and drug use. We see increased family violence and gun violence and suicide. We also witness communities where people are tired of waiting for justice, equality, inclusion, and equitable treatment. Action is demanded!
Patience is a troubling virtue; I want to jump in and fix things, make the world a better place, and eliminate homelessness, radical economic imbalance, dehumanization of whole races. Thank God that patience does not mean inaction! Patience has to do with an attitude of hopeful, faithful trust, even as we do all the good we can. “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is a reminder to be at peace with yourself and one another even as we act to address the very real problems of our world. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience,” Colossians 3:12.
May this devotion provide you with a moment of faithful reflection and care. You are involved in ministries of justice and witness, in ministries of standing up and standing with people working to create better systems and communities, in ministries of learning and searching and researching to become more aware and awakened, more technologically savvy and proficient, more virtually and personally present in your churches and communities and world. Each of us who serve as members of your Wisconsin Cabinet write these devotions in grateful prayer for you – for sustenance and buoyancy, for strength and courage, for safety and just actions, and for faith and love to be full and fulfilled in your daily lives. God’s grace and blessings, God’s challenge and healthy discomfort, God’s Spirit and energy be with you, in the hope Christ offers us all.