“I hate to be a nag, but….”
Six little words, even kindly spoken, immediately kick the fight or flight hormones into gear. No one wants to hear whatever comes next. Even gently spoken, even well deserved, even (or especially) spoken by someone we know loves us. These six little words reveal what I know to be the truth about myself: I need some nagging. There’s an app for that, you know. I have this little app on my phone called “Nudge.” If I enter any small task, it will continue to nag me with a sound of my choosing (from air raid siren to Tinkerbell) at a mutually covenanted interval. It will remind me, and remind me, and remind me. Alarm clocks are another wonder. We can delegate nagging to an electronic device that does not pass judgment or have feelings about us. The proper English voice of Emily, our GPS never loses her temper as she nags about the turn I missed. She just keeps telling me to make a U-turn, illegal in the state of Ohio. I genuinely appreciate the post cards from my dentist reminding me to get my teeth cleaned. And the post cards from my breast surgeon reminding me to get my mammies done. Post cards can be slapped on the refrigerator, which is infinitely more civilized and mature than slapping the person.
There was a widow (Luke 18) who “kept coming” to a heartless judge who had no regard for what God or anyone else thought. The tense of the Greek for “who kept coming” is the Nagging Tense. It never stops. This is how Jesus teaches the people to pray and not lose heart. Really, God wants us to nag, and not just one another? What’s with that?
Nagging is more than annoying. Nagging numbs the hearing of the person who has listened to it too long. “I might as well be talking to the wall!” the Nagger exclaims. Nagging is insulting. It suggests I’m the kind of person who doesn’t do what I’m being asked repeatedly to do. The most abrasive part of that is that it is often true. I can apologize profusely with embarrassment, or I can deflect onto other issues (especially one of which the other party is guilty) or I can arm myself defensively to do battle or I can make empty promises that I don’t have the resources to fulfill. I’m writing in the first person here, but I want to call out and say, “Can I get an Amen here?” because I know I’m not the only one. And this is how Jesus teaches the people to pray and not lose heart? What’s with that?
Let’s keep digging. Nagging is the weapon of choice of those who otherwise have little power in this world, whether in truth or in perception. The alternative is giving in to passivity or giving up hope. It’s safer than armed resistance, which got a lot of people squashed in Jesus’ day. Ours too. Luke’s widow has no other power in this world. It’s all that’s left to her that gives her hope against the Widow and Orphan Tramplers. The powerful, represented by the judge, have no reason to listen to her because they are, well, powerful. They don’t have to.
Then there are the Not-so-holy Naggers who degrade and insult the other in order to gain some foothold. Smugly confident that the person being nagged (the Naggee?) will not respond to one’s request, we lose heart–we cease to act and speak in love. We keep nagging and reinforcing our expectation that nothing will happen because nothing ever does and if the Naggee were not such a loser, they would get up and do something. And believing the verdict, the Naggee sinks lower into the couch and nothing happens. Again.
Holy Nagging, now this is a horse/nag of a different color. I am even so bold as to say it belongs to our vocation as people of faith. Holy Nagging is not about success. It may rarely seem to have results in any straight line fashion. Holy Nagging is rooted in hope. If the Naggee doesn’t respond, the Holy Nagger trusts God to have the last word and the final victory. And keeps nagging. Holy Nagging is a kind of conversation that will be with us until the end of time. It’s the kind of conversation we need to keep on having over and over again with the world that continues to pay no never mind to the Widow and the Orphan and those who for whatever reasons are meek and poor in spirit and wallet. The writer of Timothy 2, the second reading this week, encourages us:
I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.
Our confidence in nagging the powers that be is not that our nagging will succeed. Our confidence is that God is faithful. So our vocation in this world is to keep on persisting as though God has the final judgment. Results may not come this week, next month, or even in our lifetime. That doesn’t mean our faithfulness in nagging–oops Praying– is for naught. When we nag in hope and trust, we find it easier to nag in love.WE are changed.
People sometimes tell me “God always answers my prayers.” This might offend you, so stop reading right now if you need to. If God has always answered all of your prayers you need to get to asking God for some bigger things, things that aren’t likely to be accomplished in your lifetime or for your eyes to see. That’s why it takes utmost patience and persistence to be a Holy Nagger. Stop praying for “E” to be for “Enough” in your gas tank and start praying to see your neighbor as God sees your neighbor. Start praying to see the world through God’s eyes, with God’s dream for it, with God’s imagination. You won’t outlive that prayer, but it will start to live in you.
Here’s the kind of thing being a Holy Nagger could lead to. This is an excerpt from an article that appeared in The Washington Post and in Sojourners:
Faithful Filibuster: Christian Leaders Read Scripture, Exhort Congress to Careby Katherine Burgess 10-10-2013 | 2:14pm
Under a cloudy and drizzly sky, across the street from the U.S. Capitol, David Beckmann read passages from the prophet Isaiah.
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God,” read Beckmann, president of Bread for the World and one of several Protestant and Catholic leaders who gathered Wednesday to launch “Faithful Filibuster.”
The effort is intended to remind members of Congress that the government shutdown is hurting poor and vulnerable people. Volunteers planned to read more than 2,000 verses, possibly continuing into the night.
“In the midst of a crisis when we don’t really know what to do, we thought, ‘Let’s read the Bible and hear what God has to say,’” Beckmann said. There were no protesters, and few showed up to support the group, which huddled in front of the Capitol later to pray.
Yup, Holy Nagging can sure be a lonely business.
Jesus throws out a zinger at the end of the reading. “And yet, and yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Don’t confuse the word “faith” with “beliefs that are correct.” We find ourselves a place at the courthouse and White House and Capital Hill alongside the nagging widow. If she can’t be there, we stand there for her, or we watch the kids so she can be there. And we hold her a place in the food line, and hold her plate, or hold her toddler, and hold her hand. And if she accepts our help and doesn’t worship you gratefully, don’t be disappointed. That’s not why you showed up. And if she turns out to be less saintly than you thought she should be, don’t be disappointed. You didn’t show up to be her savior. Jesus has that job nicely covered. You showed up because you share a dream with Mary in Luke 1:46 ff, and you pitch in with Jesus’ dream in Luke 4, and you know this dream is bigger than you are. And suddenly, you’re living the dream. God’s dream.
God. The Holy Nagger in Chief. Now comes the startling revelation. Just maybe God is the Nagging Widow. The one who persists until, as the Jeremiah lesson says, nagging is no longer necessary because God’s Word is written in our hearts and in human flesh, in Jesus’ flesh. Keep praying, and do not lose heart. This Word is as close to you as your own heartbeat, and just as relentless as long as life endures. And when the shadows lengthen and the lights dim, and the fever and rush of the day is over, and you lie there in the quiet of night…you can hear it. The heart of God, the persistent, nagging widow, beating alongside your own.