“The unexamined life is not worth living,” Socrates famously said near the end of his life. So in the midst of a different kind of trial than the one that philosopher endured, I’ve tried to pause from time to time and observe myself. Sometimes I’m okay with what I see: it turns out that I work well from home and might even have the makings of a competent online teacher; and, well, my family seems to like my cooking. But it’s even more apparent that sheltering at home as we wait for the brunt of a pandemic amplifies some of my less admirable traits as well: I’m terribly impatient, and I easily conjure worst case scenarios.
So it’s well that the psalm for this part of the daily lectionary is #130:
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning. (Ps 130:5-6)
Left to his own devices, I’m not so sure that this psalmist is any more patient and hopeful than I am. His songs starts with him in a dark place, crying out, “Lord, hear my voice!” Imploring God to “be attentive to the voice of my supplications” is not the plea of the stoic.
So I read verses 5-6 this morning as a kind of exercise: the psalmist reminding himself who he was, and whose. If you speak the words “wait” and “hope,” you might learn better to await and be hopeful.
That’s certainly a good idea for me. When I start to look ahead to the near future with impatience (Why haven’t classes started up again? I’ve got everything ready to go!) and dread (Will we be quarantining again next fall? Will Bethel even survive the economic and cultural effects of COVID-19?), I should remind myself that I’m to be a person who waits for God, and hopes in his word.
In the process, I might learn something that today’s commentator, Howard Macy, observed about “the interplay between waiting and hoping”: it produces an “eagerness to receive the generosity of God’s grace.”
Eagerly receiving can sound like a contradiction in terms — at least to a people trained to value activity over passivity, and to trust in their own strength. But I think that’s absolutely the posture that comes from a life lived with God: waiting hopefully leads to eagerness that I will receive the grace of a God who does not mark the iniquities of people as flawed as me.
I’m not there yet. Perhaps these weeks of isolation will help mold me in this respect. But in the meantime, I’m fortunate to know people who truly are patient and hopeful, who can be good models for me of what that kind of with-God life can look like. One of them is my friend, former pastor, and co-author Mark Pattie, who wrote in our Pietist Option book about the value of living in anticipation of another event that can fill us with impatience and dread:
As we wait patiently for the second coming of Christ, we aim our prayers, our energies, and our lives expectantly toward better times for the church and our world, times in which God’s people are more fully living and loving and serving, as [A.H.] Francke put it, “to God’s glory and neighbor’s good.”
As it happens, Mark reflected on Psalm 130 last night for a series of daily video devotionals he’s filming for Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, MN.
“That idea of waiting is so critical” at all times, Mark observed, but especially right now. “In all the waiting that we’re doing in these days,” he concluded, “may we continually look to the Lord and hope in him.” Amen.