I was at my parents’ home recently, and went to heat up some leftover chicken & dumpling soup for their lunch. I pushed start on the microwave, and the timer started counting down — but that’s it. No power, no micro-waves — or any waves of any kind.

Not sure why it wasn’t working, I tried again. And again. And again — trying different buttons in an effort to get it to start. Nothing.

Well, I thought, when in doubt, unplug and start again. So I tried that. Twice. Still, this sophisticated piece of technology continued to mock me by counting down the seconds, with no output.

How old is this microwave?, I asked my mom. Turns out, it was fairly new. No reason for it to stop working. But it’s lunch time, and I need to heat up their soup. So I go old school, and stick it in a pot and turn on the burner. But I also wanted to heat up my lunch, and throwing in on the stove wasn’t going to work for what I was eating.

Honestly: it was a bit disconcerting to realize I needed to warm something up without a microwave. Really? Am I really that limited by convenience that I feel a bit aimless without being able to have something hot-and-ready in less than 2 minutes?

Come to think of it, I am limited by convenience. I expect things to be quick, simple, and available on my terms. And when they aren’t, I can get frustrated, agitated, irritated, and a lot of other “ateds” that aren’t very becoming — and aren’t very good at helping me become who I am called to be. I love convenience, but it can give me a false sense of control while at the same time subtly shaping me to believe that life should be done on my terms and in my time — all the time.

But then I interact with people and situations that technology can’t fix, and I’m reminded of how little I control and how much I still need to grow in the Fruit of the Spirit. And every part of the fruit, whether it’s love or patience or kindness or self-control, doesn’t happen quickly. That kind of fruit can’t be microwaved. It takes real time and real interactions, and sometimes, real difficult people to bring it about in my life.

James Bryan Smith tells of the summer he worked as a chaplain in a retirement home. Every day of that internship, Earl wanted to speak with him. For an hour each day, Smith would sit and listen as Earl cried and agonized over his wife’s Alzheimer’s. Smith began to dread going to see Earl; Smith didn’t say much, and Earl’s problems never changed. His room smelled; Earl smelled.

At the end of the summer, Smith made his last visit. He was so glad his time with Earl was ending. During their final conversation, Earl brought out a medal of valor he had been awarded, and he told Smith: I want you to have this. You’ll never know how much it meant to have you visit with me every day. It was all I had to hang onto. You never judged me, and you listened to me go on and on. I can never repay you. Please take this … for me.

Smith protested; he wouldn’t take it. He said: Earl earned it; he had faced the loneliness and fear and grief. All I had earned was a badge of self-centeredness. And yet, years later, Smith writes, “as I recall the summer chaplaincy I cannot remember anything other than Earl.”

Isn’t that just like life? It’s not the conveniences we remember, or the instant gratifications. It’s the slow, simple, difficult work of living and loving and becoming more of the person Jesus died for us to become.

So, on a much smaller scale, I guess I owe thanks to my mom’s microwave for not working — and for the lessons it shared with me. (Though, as it turned out, the fix was simple. A loop from one of mom’s hot pads was hanging down between the door and the base of the microwave. I moved it, and presto! — things were working again. If only my other problems had such simple solutions….)

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