Mundane Patience

It strikes me, of late, how often God pairs the grandiose with the mundane.

It’s in the Nativity, of course: the cosmic profundity of the Incarnation set in a stable, of all places.  It’s in Christ Himself: the Messiah, the very Word of God incarnate, unleashed on earth to stub his toe and sigh and need the bathroom.

 But it is in all of God’s commands, too: the high-flown ideal accompanied by the mundane expression of virtue.

When I was in youth group, we were often encouraged to substitute our names into Scripture to give us a sense of who God wanted us to be.  So when we read 1 Corinthians 13, instead of “Love is patient, love is kind…” it was supposed to be “[I] am patient, [I] am kind…”

But as an adult I realize that, for all I was affirming my potential to embody patience to myself, I didn’t even fully understand what “patience” meant.  At the time, I understood it roughly as “putting up with stuff.”  And that is part of patience, to put up with knocks on the door, ceaseless questions about the syllabus, bewildering demands from your supervisor, the extra chore you didn’t expect to have to do but then had to do anyway. 

There’s a nobility in that, in enduring annoyances and frustrations and irritations.  There’s an even greater nobility in enduring pain and tribulation, bearing up under suffering, and tilting your head to heaven as you wait and wait and wait.  I see it in my mother.  I see it in believers who wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises even in the middle of catastrophe.

Today, though, I stumbled on Galatians 6:9:

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

And I realized that verse was about patience, too.  A positive sort of patience, but a very mundane, everyday one.  This patience is what compels you to mow the little section of your neighbor’s yard that he never mows, even though he is supposed to, because you want to be kind, even though he doesn’t seem to notice or care.  This patience is what drives you to prepare careful notes for the meeting and show up prepared, only for everyone to lean on all the work you’ve done and then immediately disband after so that you have to do it again next week.  This is the sort of patience where you burn your fingers on a glue gun making something for someone and you send it, then never receive a thank you.

Or, this is the sort of patience where you set aside your own desperate needs to listen to someone else share theirs, realizing that no one is ever going to ask you how you are.  It is the sort of patience where you pick up the phone even when you really don’t want to, and you listen.  It is the sort of patience that keeps inviting, keeps welcoming, keeps encouraging, keeps cheering on, in spite of lack of notice, lack of reciprocation, lack of gratitude, lack of discernable impact, lack of anything.

It’s a tough practice.

It’s even tougher when you realize that you don’t know what the harvest will be, and may never see it, and that you don’t know what the proper time is, or if you will witness that either.  But more and more lately I am cognizant of the way that God wants me to unhook my efforts from the fruits they bear or do not bear.

Be patient, says God.  You’ll bear a harvest if you don’t give up!  But the harvest isn’t really the point, although it is one of the blessings.  The patience is the point.  The process is the point.  The new capacities you discover God can create in you to keep pushing, keep trying, keep being kind and unselfish, even when you thought you couldn’t or didn’t want to any more, are what transforms. 

I have mentioned before that there is a person I love dearly, whom I fear for deeply, who has fallen away from church and family and contact.  I have a wild guess at where he is, but beyond that no awareness of how he is doing, what he needs, how he feels, or what is going on.  I pray for him. We all pray for him.  We send cards.  We text.  We keep reaching out. 

No answer.  No answer.  But the answer isn’t the point.

Patience for me, lately, means recalibrating my expectations. Means that if I spend two days making something beautiful for someone and never hear a word about it, my first instinct shouldn’t be irritation (although it is).  Means that I don’t jettison people and contacts just because I didn’t hear back from them quickly enough or consistently enough. 

But I also think about that harvest.

I went on a staycation last week.  Before I left work, I bent myself backward to make sure everything would be ready for when I came back.  I updated my daily planner and to-do list.  I took care of a lot of items.  I got my gear all in place.  Then I went on vacation and immediately forgot I did any of those things.

Now it’s Sunday, and I thought, “I should update my planner,” but—oh! It’s already done.  And the projects for Monday are ready to go!  And I have a list telling me exactly what needs to happen!  And it’s the most wondrous thing, to blink and see the fruit of all the effort I’d forgotten.

When the time comes that the harvest is ripe, I believe we’ll see.  Oh!  That time we didn’t stop calling—that’s what it meant to the person who didn’t pick up the phone.  And the crafts we made and the prayers we prayed—oh!  That’s what happened with those.  And all those times we set aside our own needs or wants to help someone else—oh!  Look what God did with that.

It’s in the everyday patience that we grow.  It’s in the everyday patience that God makes magic happen, too.

5 thoughts on “Mundane Patience

  1. One of my favorite saints is Monica. She prayed for 17 years for her son that he right his ways. We are told she prayed with faith and patience, not with anger and cries to heaven. I can relate to her story (of course, my boys are nothing like Augustine), but a soul is a soul, right. I pray for patience like hers. My daddy was a patient man. It is a very beautiful attribute.

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    1. I love that story. 🙂 And hah – maybe your sons are secret Augustines in the making! I pray for that patience, too. It is a very appealing attribute that makes people deeply comfortable around you, I’ve found. It begets focus and a willingness to listen and go slow – all the more notable in a very fast world.

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  2. “Patience for me, lately, means recalibrating my expectations.”

    This has been my revelation this past month after a year of trying to make things work at both work and home. COVID touched everything and everything has been a battle to get things done and getting delayed and roadblocks and then finding out when I do finally ask for help it doesn’t work out because the one who was to “help” didn’t really help. As well as being in over my head in some areas thanks to the virus. The pressure of trying to hang on to my expectations that things “should” get done and it is all up to me and driving myself towards those ends only to be thwarted has driven me back to remembering I can only do so much and it is a one day at a time proposition and people (and pandemics) are going to let me down. So I am focusing on reducing the pressure by “recalibrating my expectations” so that I can be cheerful about what I’m doing and not weary.

    “The destination is for the ego, the journey is for the soul.”

    And it is good for my soul to learn patience on this journey.

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    1. Love this! Yes, I think the pandemic is teaching this to many, many, many people. Remembering that you can only do so much, as you mentioned, is a big part of it too. Letting go of the things that are too big for us gives us the fuel we need to be patient for everything else! (Now if only I could remember that…)

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