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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

'Having Patience' versus 'Being Patient'

I know it is just an expression, but sometimes I do think that people believe patience is a 'thing' that they either have or do not have.  Certainly, someone could make a lot of money selling bottles of it.  I'd buy it for sure.

But, patience isn't a substance.  It cannot be bought or grown.  It is an action.

Patience is really a decision we make, a byproduct of the sum total of our attitude and our willingness to learn from the past.  We really don't need anything at all to be patient.  We just have to decide to be patient.

That is why we often hear warnings about not asking God for patience, because He 'gives' it to us with lessons.  He tries to change our attitudes.  Attitude adjustments often hurt.  And well they should, because pain tells us we are not where we are supposed to be.

The decision to be patient comes from confidence in future events happening in a certain way.  If we are not confident in what will happen next, we will act rashly to secure the future we want by getting what we want right now before circumstances slip away.

Of course, fatalism can often masquerade as patience.  The Buddhist, who believes that everything is illusion, can appear to have supreme patience when, in fact, he is supremely fatalistic: nothing matters because nothing really exists except non-existence.  This is why he struggles for stillness, because everything else is folly.

Patience is different.  Patience comes with the acknowledgement that the situations we are dealing with are real, and likewise are the outcomes.  Being patient means knowing the outcome in advance.

So, how do you do that on a daily basis, knowing that things rarely go as planned?  How do you see into the future when it is obvious that none of the most recent lottery winners have ever said, "I got the winning number through my psychic powers"?

The key to being patient comes with having an eye on the bigger picture.  We must step back and see that there is more to life than any one particular incident.  We must see that most often the best things come after failures and disasters, and so our greater wants and needs are met through a combination of success and disappointment.

We don't need to win every battle to win the war.

However, the greatest contributing factor is a sense of our own powerlessness in the face of God's presence.  Once we truly embrace the notion that God loves us and is moving circumstances in the right direction, we can endure not only disaster but the threat of disaster.

To be honest, sometimes the threat is worse that the event.  I read about dissidents under Communism who found the threat of arrest was far worse than the actual arrest and imprisonment.  Once the event took place, there was a sense of relief.  The authorities, on the other hand, used months of incarceration without charges or explanation to build up stress in prisoners so, when finally interrogated, they would break from the months of anxiety they had experienced under the uncertainty of their circumstances.

I recall a conflict in school where a professor didn't like my behavior and threatened to turn me in for it if I didn't meet his demands.  I walked out of the office and straight to the Dean's door because I knew that having the Sword of Damocles hanging over my head would make school far more difficult than it already was.  Waiting is a battle with your own head.  I've lost that battle enough to know that it is better avoided.  By the way, the Dean ended up appreciating my willingness to tattle on myself and I got off the hook.  

If we are willing to fail and let God manage the situation from this larger perspective, then the decision to exercise patience comes without effort.  We don't have to 'try' because trying implies effort... patience is natural when there is no threat.

It is God's love that brings an end to the anxieties of uncertainty and the desire for control.  When we believe He loves us and has a plan that is greater than ours, then we will be patient.

I am still working on this.

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