The Words We Hear

Quietness, patience, and the more gracious path

by Evelyn Bence

In quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
—Isaiah 30:15

Last Saturday an unpredictable but perceptive neighbor girl, I’ll call her Nina, was at my table. As is our custom, we’d made and eaten breakfast. We’d turned to doing homework when her grandma, who struggles with English and has no car, called from a church-sponsored food bank. Nina answered the phone and translated the message: “Someone gave Grandma two big bowls. She needs help carrying them—and the food.”

At the site I waited in the car. Nina went inside the church basement, found Grandma, and came out carrying not “two big bowls” but two substantial storage barrels. I walked toward her, as did a slight-built stranger who firmly said, “You cannot take those with you. They belong here.”

“But someone gave them to my grandma.”

“Well, ‘someone’ didn’t have permission. I am the pastor. We need them. You cannot have them.” I didn’t hear a hint of pique or accusation in his voice. Even so, Nina tensed up with resistance. “But Grandma said … ”

I stepped in. “Nina, he’s the pastor, the boss. Maybe someone was confused. You can’t take them home.”

With his eyes, the pastor thanked me and kept talking, “Yes, someone didn’t understand. Let’s take them back inside.”

Still agitated, Nina set the barrels—intended for food donations—in the hallway.

Here’s what inspires me: The unimposing pastor had noted her name. And as she walked away, like the biblical Good Shepherd he said, “Nina, it’s all right. Everything’s going to be okay. God bless you!” The tension sloughed off her shoulders and mine.

Skip ahead a week. Neighbors often compliment my long-patience with Nina, but this morning things fell apart. I awoke with an irritating headache. She called at 7:30, rather than at the established “not before 8:00.” She countered every directive. “Turn down the music; turn off the phone; the next page of homework,” I urged. I sighed deeply. I raised my voice. Grandma wanted transportation—in torrential rain. We made a pineapple upside-down cake. “I’ll take home half of it,” she announced. “No. A third.” “Half.” “A third.”

Back at Nina’s house, someone—she? her sister?—snitched the walnut halves off the warm cake. The rain subsided. We went to the library—“six books not eight.” On the way out—“come, come”—Nina’s challenge stopped me short: “Miss Evelyn, today are you angry at nobody?” Everybody? Everything?

I looked into her vulnerable eyes. And she into mine. I thought of the pastor, last Saturday, his quiet, confident strength. “Maybe you’re right. Can we start over?”

“Okay.” And we did.

In Isaiah 30 the prophet calls out a wayward people and then calls them forward to a less obstinate and more gracious path. How? Listen to the convicting teacher, Isaiah says, and you’ll “hear a word behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (verse 21).

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