Hannah Heinzekehr is Executive Director of The Mennonite, Inc.
In case you missed the news, on Saturday Oct. 22, the Chicago Cubs baseball team ended a 71-year drought when they won the Major League Baseball National League championship and a ticket to the World Series. In fact, the Cubs still hold the record for the longest World Series drought in the MLB; it’s been 108 years since they last won the ultimate MLB title. If you’re a Cubs fan, you know the litany of the heartbreaks: perhaps the curse of the goat and the overzealous fan-grab primary among them.
I can’t describe to you what it felt like to witness the final double play that sealed the deal for the Cubs. My phone instantly began lighting up with texts from family members and friends. “Can you believe it?” WOOOOHOOOOO!!!” “We did it! I can’t believe it!” And my Facebook feed was full of similar messages from Cubs fans across the country expressing their shock and disbelief that we’ve actually made it this far.
You see, I’m a lifelong Cubs fan. And I’m related to some lifelong Cubs fans who have spent many more years than I have wishing and hoping that the Cubs would finally make something happen. The crackly sound of Cubs radio announcers Ron Santo and Pat Hughes (I’m a little too young to remember the sounds of the renowned Harry Caray) were the backdrop to many a family event or cooking session in the kitchen. These days, my mom, the biggest fan of all, uses MLB Radio online to stream all audio for all the games, even though she lives in Kansas now.
If you’re a Cubs fan, the journey up to this point has necessitated all sorts of patience. You’ve seen
favorite players come and go. You’ve seen talented teams squander all kinds of opportunities (hello, 2015 series with the NY Mets). You’ve seen what felt like a “sure thing” slip away. Frankly, if you get a Cubs fan started reciting all the many ways their hopes have been dashed, they may find it hard to stop.
And we’re not there yet. The Cubs face the Cleveland Indians—another team facing a long World Series drought (68 years; not as long as the Cubs, I might point out) in the World Series showdown beginning on Tuesday, and although I’m cautiously optimistic, I won’t dare to speculate too positively about the potential outcome.
The Cubs winning has brought to mind ruminations on the nature of patience. I have a clear memory of
a common song about patience that was bandied about in our family throughout my childhood. From the Christian cartoon musical, The Music Machine, the song was sung by a slow-moving snail, Herbert, and the lyrics went something like this: “Have patience. Have patience. Don’t be in such a hurry. When you get impatient, you only start to worry. Remember, remember, that God is patient, too. And think of all the times when others have to wait for you.”
Here’s one recent remake of the song (it’s nice to know it’s still around):
All these years later and those words are still fresh in my mind.
In our world and our church, I think we’ve devalued the concept of patience. Patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit named in Scripture, but frankly it’s always been one of my least favorite (or perhaps just the one that comes least naturally to me0.
The other day, I found myself watching my phone and tapping my foot impatiently, waiting for a friend to return my text. It had only been a few minutes since I sent my first note, but I realized in that moment how accustomed to a quick response or “quick fix” I had become.
Sometimes we have this response in the church, too. In preparation for the 20th anniversary of The Mennonite magazine (in 2018), I’ve been trying to read back through some of our earliest issues. While reading, it’s struck me again how young Mennonite Church USA is, in the grand scheme of things. Our denomination—officially formed from the merger of the General Conference Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Church in 2001—is not even 20 yet. We’re in our creative, moody teenage years right now.
I wonder what it might look like for us to model patience—patience with ourselves and with one another as we continue to discern who we are called to be. Can we be patient enough to listen to one another and learn what has drawn each of us to this body of Anabaptist believers in the first place? Often, to quote the words of this catchy little song, it seems that our impatience with our collective change processes leads to widespread worry across the church.
This does not mean we don’t need to wrestle with how we live together and how we welcome one another. It does not mean magic agreement. And it does not mean people should ever stay in spaces where they are being treated badly. But it does mean that we acknowledge that the work of God (and by extension, the church) can unfold slowly.
Theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote a prayer reflecting on the “slow work of God.” “Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything, to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—and that it may take a very long time.…Only God could say what this new spirit forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”
In a recent interview with Shana Boshart, one of the conference ministers for Central Plains Mennonite Conference, she noted that Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17 has been vitally important to their conference. Jesus, in a prayer for his disciples, says, “The glory that you have given me, I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me.”
Shana said, “Jesus’ prayer is that the church be unified. Of all the other things we disagree about, few of those things can we say Jesus prayed about and we have record of in the Gospels. We need to take that seriously. We need to find a way to accept and enjoy our diversity and the covenant model seems to be a way to value diversity and at the same time value the unity the Spirit gives us as Christians.”
May we be patient enough to allow this slow work of God—this movement toward unity in difference—to unfold among us, despite the ups and downs and the heartbreaks and the many times we were sure we were almost there. Let’s not give up on our “team” yet.
And although the stakes are not as high with the Cubs, you know I’ll be glued to my TV almost every night this week, ready to celebrate if indeed (please!) this is the year that we get a big win. And if not, a good Cubs fan knows, “There’s always next year.”
Featured image: Creative Commons/Phil Roeder.