June 7, 2008

What Does Patience Look Like?

Note: If you're reading this from an RSS feeder or on Facebook, and the links are messing up the text, I suggest you read it directly from my blog: breakfasttiffany.blogspot.com.

When I was in the fifth grade I wanted to be a singer, actress and owner of a dog farm. My dog farm would be huge and would welcome any dogs that needed a home. They'd run around like cattle on a "normal" farm. Take a moment to imagine dogboys rounding up the dogs like cowboys round up cattle. My life aspirations have changed and now I just want one dog and I've resigned myself to the fact that I don't have the voice to be a singer (but I still have my Oscar acceptance speech ready just in case). I'm happy with where I am professionally and hope to one day write books, once I have the discipline to churn one out. But there are still a lot of unanswered questions about my future.

Which brings me to my point. A phrase has been making the rounds for a while now and it describes what many people my age are going through: the quarter-life crisis. We want to know what career to pursue, if and who we're going to marry (and when) and the general path we should take in our life. We're still getting used to being an adult and we want to know what comes next. Should I go back to school? Move to a different part of the country? Pursue a relationship with that person across the room who just happens to be fabulous?

Waiting for the answers to these questions (or questions that arise at any time of life) is about as much fun as counting the number of openings in a screen window. That is--it's not fun and it's tedious and makes you want to scream obscenities. And so we're told to be patient. We read over and over in Scripture to be patient and we repeat over and over that "patience is a virtue." So here's my question:

What the heck does patience look like?

Does it mean I have to be cool, calm and collected and just take whatever is thrown my way? Does it mean I'm not allowed to be upset or sad that nothing is happening? Should I just wait patiently for something to hit me in the head? What do I do while I'm waiting patiently for the Lord? Can I be proactive in my pursuit, or am I supposed to go about my regular business?

Patience can be seen throughout the Bible. It's no coincidence that saying someone has the "patience of Job" is a common phrase. So I did a topical search of patience and lo and behold the verses flowed forth. I read each of them and let me tell you--the people writing these verses often had a lot more to be upset about than me. I don't think I'll ever have to worry about being pursued by mortal enemies like in many of the Psalms
(unless that dream I once had where I was the nanny in The Sound of Music and my husband hired someone to kill me comes true...but I digress).

The more I thought about patience and what it means and the more I read passages about patience, I began to notice something. Patience isn't a singular item we must cultivate. It doesn't stand alone, as though separate from other virtues. The overarching goal of our life in Christ is to glorify and worship God. When learning to do this, patience is one of the many results. When we're learning one virtue, we're actually learning others as well. When working on kindness, we're learning to be patient with everyone. When learning faithfulness, we're also learning self-control. These things go hand-in-hand and stand together.

Take a look at Galatians 5:22-23. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." Did you notice how is says the "fruit" of the Spirit rather than the "fruits"? Or the fruit "is" instead of "are"?

I was looking up sermons about patience on my church's website and found one that talks a great deal about the need for endurance in our walk with Christ. Life isn't going to be easy, but God never hides His intentions or fails on His promises. In fact, I believe we can take great hope in knowing that our spiritual and personal success depends much more on God's promises than it does our own persistence. Meaning, if we're doing our part by seeking and following God, our job is just to remember and believe/trust His promises--and wait on Him.

There we go with the patience and waiting again. Back to my question: what does patience look like? I believe in the passages that explore patience by showing distress and doubt, we can find hope and guidance in the fact that these verses are included in God's Word. If it were wrong to be sad or upset, the entire book of Lamentations would not be included in the Bible. The fine line, though, is to remember God's goodness and continue to seek righteousness despite our problems.

In the end, I think patience means having full confidence in God's timing and waiting on His will to be fulfilled, rather than jumping ahead of the game or going directly against His will. We may have times of anguish and we may be hurting during the long wait, but while we're waiting we're also learning other lessons about God and cultivating other virtues. Even in the middle of Lamentations, the author writes "This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great if Your faithfulness...The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the Lord" (Lam. 3:21-23, 25-26).

To conclude: I don't believe there is anything wrong with asking questions or wondering about God's timing or even becoming emotional about a lack of change or movement. Our God is not an unemotional God who demands no emotion from us. Our God only demands continued trust in His timing and to follow the principles He has laid out for us in His Word.

Seek righteousness in all areas of life, even in our waiting.

Psalm 86:1-13

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