“From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.’ Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.” (NRSV)
Impatience. Grumbling. They go together like a hand in a glove. The impatient person sticks his hand in the glove of complaints, voicing and animating his missed expectations for all to hear and see.
The ancient Israelites had been delivered with the miraculous and mighty hand of God. But the celebration soon turned sour. Out in the desert with millions of people, the Israelites had no food or water. We have no account of the people reflexively using their spiritual connection with God to ask him for help. Nope. They just grumbled against God and his servant Moses.
God had enough of their constant complaints. He had shown mercy and committed love to them over-and-over again. Yet, the people still put on their grumpy faces any time something didn’t go their way. God kept showing patience toward the people, but the people kept demonstrating impatience toward God.
If you stop and think about the pathology of your impatience and complaining (which we all do – come on, admit it) you’ll likely discover that at the heart of it all is a picture in your mind of how you think circumstances ought to go for you to be happy. The Israelites expected a nice clean break from Egypt with a smooth transition into the Promised Land. They didn’t sign up for hard circumstances and trouble to get there.
You go to church expecting to be fed and encouraged. You expect that school will be enjoyable and that you’ll get a good paying job when you graduate. You expect to go to work and have healthy working relationships and a good boss. You expect your kids to listen to what you say and do what you tell them. You expect your spouse to give you focused attention. You expect the weather to be better. You expect the little plastic things on the end of your shoelaces to last for the life of your shoes….
You get the picture. No matter what scenario we posit, its more than likely it isn’t going to go as planned or expected. The rub comes when those expectations aren’t realized. Then, what? In a perfect world we would always respond in a reasoned, wise, and healthy manner. But if we’re feeling like we’re in an emotional place of insecurity out in the desert, our response is more likely going to be impatience, grumbling, and complaining about things which aren’t going as planned.
A great deal of disobedience, bad behavior and speech, and poor decision-making has its beginnings in impatience. The minute you become impatient, take a long deep breath before you make your next mental decision. Check-in with yourself. Be mindful of what your real expectations are for the circumstance or person in the present moment of becoming upset. Make the decision not to complain or argue. Instead, choose to say what you want without grumbling.
It is truly possible to stand for holiness, live for righteousness, and uphold the words and ways of Jesus without being a jerk about it through impatient sighs, annoying facial expressions, and terse words of carping and criticizing another person made in God’s image.
Monitor yourself throughout the day today. Notice the times you become annoyed. Stop and take a minute to analyze what it is you are expecting. Instead of grumbling, ask God how he wants to strengthen your faith through the situation or encounter. Because God is there to help you, not to pick on you.
Holy God, your patience is incredible in the face of human impatience. Yet, your boundaries are firm, and you will not put up with our petulant ways forever. Help me to live into the model of your Son, the Lord Jesus, who with you and the Holy Spirit are attentive to come alongside me to your own glory and honor. Amen.