Patience amidst life’s questions

For some time now the iconic Union Chain Bridge spanning the River Tweed between England and Scotland has been closed whilst undergoing major repairs. The £10.5 million scheme which began in October 2020, has been delayed well beyond the initial completion date, and is now likely to be re-opened by the autumn of this year; around 12 months later than expected. As the delay has gone on, I’ve found myself asking many questions and my patience with the project, wonderful though it is, has even began to wear a bit thin. Why has this taken so long? What’s gone wrong? How couldn’t they source the materials? And the classic (and often unhelpful) question, who’s fault is it anyway? After all, the Chain Bridge is my shortest and preferred route to the farm, and I’d very much like it re-opened NOW!

Beyond my questioning the apparent tardiness of cross-border engineering projects, my life seems to be throwing up a whole bunch of unresolved questions at the moment. Some of these questions are very simple ones; as we approach harvest on the farm there are the classic queries surrounding weather and yield. Other questions pertain to wider political concerns and particularly the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Next there are personal and family issues, and questions particularly concerning my wife’s health which I spoke of recently.


It’s really important to ask questions; I once recall a friend at theological college offering a definition of getting old as when we stop asking questions, yet perhaps even more important is to ask the right questions; constructive, informed questions of both ourselves and also of any church or Christian community we may be part of. In some cases, a church asking “how do we get more people to come on a Sunday morning”, is as crazy as me asking “how can I cross the Chain Bridge before it’s been rebuilt”? It’s the wrong question! I wonder, what questions might you or your church be grappling with at the moment? Is your questioning helpful and constructive, or are you being led to ask more negative finger pointing questions? Further to that, I wonder if there are any questions you may be afraid to ask of yourself or each other?


As I reflect on all the questions I’m currently living with, I think I’m being forcefully reminded once again of the Godly virtue of patience. Scripture abounds with wonderful examples of patience during questioning and trials. Paul urges us to be “patient in trouble and keep on praying” (Romans 12:12), Isaiah speaks of our strength being renewed as we wait patiently (Isaiah 40:31) and of course, one of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5 is patience. One day (hopefully soon!) The Chain Bridge will re-open, the gap will once again be bridged and all my questions regarding the refurbishment of the bridge will most likely be forgotten. Yet conversely in our life’s journey, some of our questions will never be answered, as Job mentions “can you solve the mysteries of God?” I’m not advocating we ignore them, but on occasion the most rigorous theological education or even a wonderfully crafted three-point sermon, may never be able to answer some of the deepest questions we are each called to live with, and that’s okay.


Right now, I’m trying to live patiently with some of those unanswered questions, it’s not always easy, I often struggle, yet I get the sense that entering into the deeper mysteries of our faith is a place God might quite like us to be. As I seek patience amidst life’s questions, and until that bridge eventually re -opens, I conclude with what has been a helpful poem to me, written by the Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke.


Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.

Do not search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.


Alistair Birkett

Director: Scotland & Northern England