Patience

Patience is a trait that is sometimes viewed as a strength, oftentimes mistaken for a weakness and generally misunderstood. When I think about patience, I consider it to be an expression of humility and love. Pride and arrogance would demand that things would move at the pace of our self: that our timing would be right. It demands that it gets what is owed, when it is owed. It keeps a balance sheet and anyone who falls behind is, justly, left behind. Pride and arrogance insist that their way and timing is, of course, best.

Patience is lovingly moving at a pace slower than the one at which you are capable, for the sake of another. It focuses less on what the self can accomplish and more on what is accomplished together. Sometimes, we are even forced to be patient because what we desire is entirely outside of our influence or control. In such cases, we find that we must surrender control and find something or someone in which we can trust.

Patience always costs us something. In one of the running books I read (and I read a similar thing about swimming), when we train for a long time in running or swimming, our natural pace becomes very economical and efficient. Afterwards, if we force ourselves to move at a pace slower than the one we naturally perform in, we have to work harder and be more attentive to our movements. This is not easy or intuitive.

Without patience we might respond to delay or slowness with anger, shaming, frustration, hopelessness, apathy, judgment, etc. It is likely we would also feel justified in our behavior. We are right to feel this way, are we not? ‘Look at how I am hindered!’ we proclaim. How much harder is it to seek to choose the path of empathy and compassion, and act instead with patience?

I find it interesting how little people seem to cultivate patience in our society while conversely treasuring dearly those who show us patience in times of difficulty and struggle. I believe that patience is like a muscle; it can be strengthened and developed over time. Consider a two-year-old and the patience they often show when faced with a seemingly insurmountable task. It does not take long for a tantrum to ensue. Are there not places in our own lives where we do the equivalent? And yet over the last decade I feel like I have witnessed a decrease in kindness, patience, compassion and generosity of spirit from adults.

Part of me wonders if this is shaped by the nationalistic tendencies of our country (the good ‘ol USA). Our ongoing rhetoric of being the “greatest,” if true, carries with it a heavy choice. If we are, in fact, the greatest wouldn’t it also follow that we must, if we love, also be the most patient? If we are not, it seems to me that we are choosing arrogance and pride instead (companions of hatred). This is not what I want for myself or for the people of my country. I hope that someday others might describe us as models of patience and humility (fruits of the Spirit and expressions of love) rather than bullies.

Stepping into the “Unknown”

I recently finished an exegesis on a different part of Philippians (posted here somewhere), but another group of verses came to mind as I went through my last day at work, re-telling people time and again with a smile and a chuckle that “Indeed, time sure does fly… No, nothing lined up yet… I’m sure everything will work out fine… Yep, something more faith and/or community focused… Yeah, I’ll be spending a week in prayer and reflection trying to understand my next steps…”

Knowing that Jesus is countercultural and doing something counter to your cultural are two very different things. It can feel isolating, and yet I know I’m not alone.

Philippians 4:10-13 “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

I am startled at how much I related to this today. The two years leading up to this? Oh man! How I struggled. To let go of money being the thing I put my trust in and my property defining part of my identity. I asked, “What is the value of a life directed towards the pursuit of happiness?” For me I discovered it wasn’t much and it rarely brought me happiness.

No, I think God tells me that a life pursuing a meaningful purpose has the side effect of joy and happiness. Every life is worth the same, but what of the value that every life creates? We exist in a society that often idealizes selfishness, perhaps thinking the key to happiness lies within that trait. And yet the more selfish we become, the fewer friends we have per capita, the more isolated we are, with higher rates of anxiety, depression… Oftentimes we can’t even gain a sense of our own identity anymore.

Yet here I sit in a place with God where, when I talk about where I am it clearly stirs up anxiety in the hearts of some people; it makes me realize how good God is that he brings me here to this place to sit in this struggle and grow with Him. A man called Father Mike posts videos on Ascension and in one of them he talked about the difference between patience and rushing towards the next thing. He used the example of building a shed. They had put a foundation down but it wasn’t level and his answer was to just drill all new holes for the shed but the man leading the project insisted they do it right so they disassembled, leveled the foundation, and easily assembled it so it was built right.  This is how God sometimes operates.

I went down a path for 14 years that excluded God from the equation and God, in His graciousness, has torn so many things down to the foundation so that we could make sure it was built right in my life. Now what He’s building is good and I can trust in His work and lean into a vision even when I don’t understand it. This is the goodness of my God.