Years ago I read a book co-authored by John Perkins and Shane Claiborne called Let Justice Roll Down. I’ll admit, after all those pages, I can only tell you one clear thing I remember from the book: an interaction Mr Perkins had with a young missional community planter who was not seeing results fast enough in his neighborhood. He asked his mentor, “Why are we not seeing what we hoped to see yet?” John Perkins responded, “Wait 10 years.”
10 freaking years?
An entire decade? Seriously?
I will always remember this short paragraph in the book because I am an impatient person. I like results. I like to see change. I like to know that the work I am doing is making a difference. Now. Not in 10 years. Not in 5 years.
That works for certain kinds of professions or projects or tasks or goals. It is true, in some areas of the universe, “quick” is possible. Certain actions will yield certain results. Particular formulas or work habits or efficient practices will lead to particular outcomes in an expedient manner.
However, the work that I do as a pastor and advocate and friend is just not that kind of work.
A life of downward mobility and incarnational living doesn’t seem to roll that way.
Personal transformation and healing just don’t drop out of the sky the way we wish they would.
In my experience, personal change isn’t just slow.
I always remember something my friend and co-pastor at The Refuge, Karl Wheeler, said years ago: “I need to take whatever amount of time I think it will take for me to change or someone else to change and multiply that by at least 10.”
I know some of you are shaking your head right now, feeling discouraged or even finding yourselves saying “but there are some things we can do to accelerate healing or to move to a new place faster or to reach our goals more quickly.” Yes, I totally agree. It’s true, there are certain things we can do to cultivate change and transformation, intentions that will truly make a difference, actions that yield particular fruit.
At the same time, I keep learning that no matter how many of those tricks I apply, no matter how many healthy relationship skills I learn, no matter how many groups I attend, no matter how much I pray, when we are talking about our own and others’ blood and guts and souls and real lives, transformation just doesn’t come quickly.
In fact, it usually comes slow.
And I do mean slow.
Not months, not a year or two, but years and years and years.
This is why I believe so passionately in long-haul relationship, where we don’t flit from group to group or church to church or cause to cause but stay rooted in messy, complicated, often-annoying relationships with people over a long, long period of time. It seems like that is where the juice is, where we really see healing and transformation, where over the years something actually changes.
The Refuge is nine years old this year. I knew some of the people who are part of it for at least two years before that, making it 11 years of life together. I have seen incredible transformation in all of our lives over these past several years. Incredible transformation. I am not the same person I was back then, although I still struggle with some of the same things. And oh, the change I have seen in my friends! Sobriety, healthier relationships, freedom, healing, purpose, education — the list is long of all the things that have been cultivated over this many years of relationship.
But here’s the crazy part — we often still can’t see change the way we wish we could. We still need reminding that who we are in our worst moment is not who we really are. We still need to remember that we live in a broken world and there will always be tragic gaps between what we long for and what is. We still wrestle with God and our sometimes flailing faith. We still struggle with things we struggled with 10 years ago even if it looks a little different.
Most of us are hares. We like to win the race, find our way out of our messes, cross a finish line or a task off our list. Oh, how I miss those days when I had so much of my life squeezed down to lists and spiritual formulas and simple answers. But the truth is that the Kingdom of God is much more attuned to tortoises.
Slow, steady, moving toward hope.
I personally think we need more of this slow message in our lives, in our churches, in the books and magazines we read, in the interactions we have with our friends and family, and most certainly the dialogue we have in our head about ourselves.
We need grace for the long haul.
We need to be gentle with ourselves.
We need to be patient with others.
We need to trust God is at work underneath the surface.
We need to accept that transformation is most often very slow.
It rarely comes in a rush.
But the beautiful part is that when we stick together and keep slowly and surely walking toward hope and healing and justice and mercy alongside other brave sisters and brothers trying to come to life in all different ways, it always seems to come.
It may take 10 years to see it, but it always comes.
SheLoves sisters, may we learn to quit looking at the clock, the calendar, our own made-up-timetable-of-where-we-think-we-or-others-should-be and start encouraging each other (and ourselves) to be patient, kind, and willing to accept the long, beautiful, brutal, sweet road of slow transformation.
Image credit: William Warby