What do Walmart, Chick-fil-A, and a U.S. Post Office share in common?  I’ll answer that in just a moment.  But, first, another question.

How do you get better at something?  The answer is: practice!

If you want to raise your free throw percentage in basketball, you stay in the gym and put up shot after shot from the foul line; stay loose, regulate your breathing, feet squared to the basket, flex your knees, fluid stroke, follow through, and repeat.  If you want to have more confidence in your golf swing and lower your score on the course, you go to the driving range and hit a large bucket of balls, and perhaps another.  Proficiency in playing a musical instrument works the same way.  Just wishing you were better or watching other people play isn’t enough.  You’ve got to get in on the action yourself and learn by doing; on-the-job training is essential if you want to improve.  Practice!

There is one sense of the word “practice” which simply indicates something that is carried out or performed habitually, as in someone who “practices kindness” or “practices hospitality”; this meaning also extends to activities that are done professionally, like “practicing medicine” or “practicing law.”  But, the secondary sense of the verb means “to perform or work at something repeatedly so as to become proficient; to train by repeated exercises.”

Several months ago, in a lesson on the subject of patience, I sought to challenge myself and others to consider ways in which we could actively grow in this particular grace and fruit of the Spirit.  I wasn’t discussing the kind of patience (hupomone) that is more accurately translated “endurance” or “perseverance” in tribulation, but the patience (makrothumia) that describes how we “wait” for the Lord’s coming and how the farmer “waits” for the rain (James 5:8).

I found myself using the phrase “practice patience” to describe how we should respond in situations in which we have no recourse but to wait, waiting on “God’s own time” or a change in circumstances that are beyond our control.  I was using  “practice” in the first sense noted two paragraphs above.  But, what if we shifted the emphasis to the second sense of the term and actually practiced patience.  I ad-libbed at this point in the message (always dangerous for me) and threw out the idea that I just might need to go somewhere for no other purpose than waiting in line so that I could have more “practice” at being patient.

I finally got around to doing some follow-up on that concept the other day.  I decided to use my lunch hour to practice patience.  My first stop was Walmart.  I really didn’t need to buy anything, but I grabbed a couple of rather inexpensive items that I could use eventually, then selected the longest check-out line in which to wait.  May I remind you that it is two weeks before Christmas; finding long lines at Walmart is not too much of a challenge at this time of year.  Next stop, the Chick-fil-A drive-thru lane around 12:30.  More excellent practice!  I had planned to skip my noon meal that day, but decided to reward my wait with a yogurt parfait.  The last exercise station in my “patience workout” was at the post office.  I did mention that it’s a couple of weeks before Christmas, didn’t I?

What did I accomplish while I was waiting?  Several things, actually.  I realized how frequently I’m in a hurry.  I pondered what it is about waiting that drives me nuts, along with a lot of other normally reasonable people.  So, I missed the traffic light; so, my line at the grocery store always seems to move the slowest; so, it’s 30 minutes past my appointment time and I’m still in the aptly named waiting room at the doctor’s office.  Should that really cause my blood pressure to rise, my tone to become snarky, and my countenance to fall?

Having blogged recently about the promise of God’s presence in us and around us in this world, I consciously thought about the fact that God was with me at Walmart, at Chick-fil-A, and standing in line with me at the post office.  I considered that everyone in line ahead of me and those who were working behind the counter were all created in His image, each and every one of them loved by Him unconditionally.  How many of these people had Christ living in their hearts?  How many were seeking Him?  How many should have been seeking Him, but weren’t?  When I finally made it up to the counter, I asked the pleasant postal worker for a book of Christmas stamps.  We ended up having a brief, but incredibly enjoyable, conversation about my choice of stamps.  She enthusiastically concurred with my selection.  I left with a smile on my face.

A waste of time?  Not for me.  Within just a few hours, I had a dramatic “reality check” that reminded me how much more practice I need in being patient.

“To perform or work at something repeatedly so as to become proficient; to train by repeated exercises.”

Practice kindness.  Practice hospitality.  Practice patience.