“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Rom. 12:12).
I must confess that one of my weaknesses is a lack of patience. I think I am fairly good with the hope thing, and the faith thing is pretty strong in my life, but that middle one, patience, gets me every time.
For most of my ministry, I’ve had to move people and resources in a timely fashion. I look for the fastest route to a foreign country, and I have to make sure that buses, medical supplies and hotels are all lined up when we get there. I consider myself a professional problem-solver, and I often have to solve them quickly because lives are at stake. So when I find myself at the mercy of something I can’t control, I get impatient. Maybe it’s more of a control issue than a lack of patience.
When I pray, I almost always ask God to give me wisdom, to help me be aware of the needs around me and thousands of other things, but rarely do I ask Him to help me be patient. But a funny thing about God: He’ll teach you what He wants to teach whether you ask Him or not.
Two events happened this week that God wanted to use to teach me patience. First, our office phone and internet went out. Our lives are so connected to the internet. On this day, a doctor and his wife were setting up our medical mission trip to The Gambia, and we needed to communicate with them while they were in-country. When the phone company didn’t respond to our needs on the first day, and we were going into our second day without phone service, I got into my truck, drove to the telephone company and sat in their office until they got someone to repair the problem. It was only a 10-minute fix, but I couldn’t wait another 10 minutes.
On Saturday, my wife and I went to Wal-Mart. I wrote the other day how our Wal-Mart has fewer and fewer assisted checkout lanes. Most of our checkouts are called “Scan and Go,” which I think they should rename “Scan and Pray.” My goal in life is to check out without having a flashing light go off and a pimply-faced kid come over, swipe his card and fix whatever I’m doing wrong. With me scanning and my wife filling the bags, we were moving along just fine. Until we weren’t.
My wife is a coupon addict, which has saved us a ton of money over the years. She gave me the coupons to scan in, and then it happened. The screen froze up, the light went off and the kid came running over, looking at me as if I had just broken the entire system. Sliding his card in and pecking at the screen, he told me to do it again and walked away. I scanned the coupon and again, the screen froze and the light went off. The disgusted employee looked at me as if to say, “What did you do this time?” But this time, his sliding little card and tapping little fingers couldn’t fix it, so he called in another person with a sliding card and more tapping fingers. Next, they asked me to insert my credit card into the machine, which caused a meltdown in the system.
The second person said, “Come with me,” and we followed him to the Customer Service Desk. Now, they tried to pull up our receipt from their computer, and it showed none of our items had been paid for, so they would have to rescan every single item. By now, our ice cream was getting soft, the frozen pizza was experiencing a major thaw and my patience was being tested. But the employees were still very nice as they worked on un-sacking, re-scanning and re-sacking every item.
Finally, they pulled up the total and announced to us, “That will be $150.15; would you reinsert your credit card?” As my wife did so, I told the clerk that when I had scanned these same items earlier, the total was $138.17. So they pulled a receipt and discovered the checkout worker had hit the “one” button one time too many on some items. For example, we were charged for 11 bell peppers instead of one. Now, they had to stick a key into the cash register and begin the process of refunding, but they had to do it separately for each item. The whole process took 45 minutes.
As I was walking out of the store, mumbling, God reminded me that if I didn’t grow in patience even from this experience, He would send me into more situations like this until I learn the lesson.
Yes, even God works at Wal-Mart.