A few days before Labor Day we got new neighbors — eight young adults to be exact. Four young men and four young women in their twenties moved in next door.
My husband and I launched a new ministry called “The Hope House,” in which we invited this specific group of people to live 43 steps away from us. We call it our great experiment. We set out to guide others in the discipline and art of Christian community. The guys occupy the downstairs quarters of the house, while the girls have a separate living space upstairs. Between the Hope House family and my family, there are fifteen people, three kitchens, two cats, and one laundry room (in our garage wedged between the bikes and the litter box to be precise).
Over the first couple of weeks of our Hope House neighbors settling in, I noticed that one of the young adults, Skyler, would wander in and out of our house. He typically landed at our kitchen counter with a hypothetical situation or a hilarious story about his day. Over tea and washing dishes, we would chat about faith, family, loss, love, and the life of Christ. Dinner was always on the stove. My phone was always dinging with demands. But, through interruptions, distractions, and sometimes retelling hard stories, our chats would linger.
One particular evening, while Skyler recounted a painful experience from his past, his face became flushed and his eyes filled with tears. He lifted his round Harry Potter glasses and with the back of his hand, he began to intercept the unwelcome leaking. While apologizing, he swiped the visible outpouring of his heart onto the sleeve of his sweatshirt and tried to hide his shame. But, sometimes the pain we’ve tucked away and tried to tame brazenly disobeys. Like a dog in training, we demand our sadness go back into submission. But that night, for a brief moment, his feelings defied a lifetime of discipline and dismissal, and refused to comply. Tears down his face. Tears shed into a soaked sleeve. Years of untold stories in the shape of liquid diamonds were finally allowed to breathe while his soul could beautifully be seen.
Sometimes, we don’t have enough strength to get to the table where God meets us (Psalm 23). In those moments, God brings the table right to us. I think that night was one of those nights for Skyler.
God pulled up a table for all of that pent-up pain to be met with the patient love of Christ.
First Corinthians 13:4 says, “Love is patient…”. I can easily overlook what patience really means. When I think about being patient, I think about not rushing my kids to put their shoes on or not getting bothered by long lines. But, I think it means more than that. I am learning that love, at its core, is patient. Love is slow. For love to foster, transform, and change us, we need unhurried grace to guide us. Sometimes this grace comes in the form of sickness, interruptions, and unexpected problems. Grace whispers, “Slow down. Wait. There is no need to hurry.”
“You need to be patient with your pain,” my own spiritual director recently said. Patient? I nearly laughed. That is the last thing I want. I want my pain gone, fixed, compacted, processed and put out on the curb Wednesday morning with all the other trash cans. Yet, here was my spiritual director pulling up Christ’s table for me when I was choking on my grief.
When we think about the table, oftentimes we think of a feast. There is bread, savory foods, lit candles, joy-filled toasts, with wine spilling over. I believe this is true of Christ’s table. At the table, there is abundance and laughter and warmth. But, more and more, I am discovering that spotlights, scalpels, gauze, bandaids, water, and anesthesia are there too. Our souls undergo surgery on the operating table of God’s grace and mercy. Surgery is remarkably precise, and, yes — slow. And that’s the way we want it. Don’t rush heart surgery.
Our hearts are slow to change. Yet, we want everything instant. We want instant growth, instant healing, instant fixes, instant caffeine to revive us midday. We want things done fast and efficiently. But, at the table, God offers us love — the patient kind of love. The kind that cares less about accomplishing something and more about becoming something.
God is patient with us. He is slow with us. He is unhurried with us. He isn’t bothered by how long it takes us to get our act together or just get.it.right. Perhaps allowing people to change slowly is one of the greatest ways we can love each other. And for ourselves, perhaps letting the love of God do slow surgery in our hearts is one of the greatest gifts we can ever receive. We are not just becoming patient, we are the patient.
We are beloved children of God. God leads us well even when it seems like He is backtracking, distracted, or spending far too long gazing at the golden skyline as the darkness is closing in like monstrous shadows.
God knows the way. He knows your heart needs the grace gift of slowness. God is a patient, loving, caretaker who wanders and meanders through the backroads of your story to heal your hidden heart and savor every single tear. Time is not His concern. His sole purpose and joy is to be with you, just as you are, and offer you the loving hope of His presence.
Be patient with the process because there is nowhere else you need to be right now — but here.
P.S. After nearly five years of serving this beautiful community, this will be my last time writing for (in)courage. I step away from the gift of this place in order to step more fully into all that God is inviting me into in this new season, which includes The Hope House. I love you and am so grateful to have shared my stories with you. Love always, Anjuli