Whenever I sit down to write something I intend to share (particularly here), I like to at least feel like I have some semblance of an “answer”. By answer I mean a different way of thinking or processing that was helpful to me, or a perspective or viewpoint that might make a situation better, etc. Basically, something of substance that I hope someone else might read and think to themselves, “hmm.. that’s helpful”. Tonight I sit down and write about patience. Well meaning people have called me patient before, but I generally feel nothing of the sort. Even if I seem patient, there is usually a quiet anxiety bubbling just beneath the surface. Like most of us, I’ve learned to hide what might be seen as an unpleasant quality. When I think of patience, I feel as if I have no “answers”. At most, maybe just a bit of perspective. The funny thing about patience is it has little to do with the thing we must be patient for and much to do with how we think, feel, and spend our time while we wait for it.
We tend to think of patience as something more akin to endurance - like powering through your vegetables as a child, a necessary evil of sorts. So we wait and we do the best we can to grin and bear it. The trouble with waiting around on something, be it a job, spouse, move, graduation, whatever, is while we wait, life happens around us. We may get the feeling that we’ve put life on pause (or maybe that life has been put on pause for us), but the script continues to write itself. We fret and worry and wonder for years and then we finally come to the cusp of the thing we’ve so sought after. We find, as we dig into whatever it may be, we wasted so much time thinking and worrying about the very moment we are now in. It may be the crowning achievement of our lives, but we would enjoy it no less having not given it hours and hours of thought (that far away dreaming sort of thought where you imagine yourself doing or gaining the thing you want most). That’s not to say it isn’t a great reward, joy, achievement, etc.; I simply mean our lives were no less valuable or meaningful without the thing we so sought after. Taken in a multitude of contexts, that statement would require quite a bit of unpacking, but, for the sake of brevity, hopefully this example will help me narrow the focus. In one of my favorite documentaries, 180 Degrees South, Yvon Chouinard refers to he and his climbing buddies as “Conquerors of the Useless”. There were no trophies, ribbons, or plaques waiting for them at the top of their climbs, typically only a really nice view. It wasn’t about the summit; it was about the process.
The old adage that the “grass is always greener” seems to be frustratingly true here. When we’re young, we simply can’t wait to have a family and a fulfilling career etc., and (I imagine) when we grow a bit older, we will think back on all the fun we had when we were younger and long for that time again. For almost as long as I can remember, I’ve always had something in my mind I thought I needed to achieve or “summit” to keep with the comparison above, in order to be truly happy. Whether consciously or not, I’ve mostly lived in such a way that is always moving towards the next big thing. The status quo is never good enough, and whatever I might find to shake it next simply can’t come soon enough. The drive that pushes us to do great things, to face challenges that scare us just a little, and ‘roll the dice’ on life is a good and healthy motivator, but the voice of wounded pride that speaks to nothing but our self perceived inadequacies seems to be the greatest enemy of patience and the process. It never rests. If we find ourselves in a transitional stage or a difficult time of waiting, we can bet it will be there nagging, pestering, and destroying any sense of peace and calm that patience may bring. So which is motivating us, the fear or the drive?
In my adult life, I find I am afraid people will not respect or understand the decisions I’ve made (“life” decisions.. career, relationships, etc.). So, in turn, when I make decisions, there are at least two motivators: the fear of being misunderstood or seeming like a failure and my very own goals and desires for where and who I think I may like to be. You can imagine how these two motivators don’t always push me in the same direction. I can’t even begin to imagine what I might have missed because I sought to satisfy the motivation of fear first and the motivation of my own true desires second. So, for me, impatience causes me to give in to those fears rather than holding out and trusting in the resolve of my ultimate goals.
Like humility and charity, patience is a virtue we will probably spend the rest of our lives trying to perfect. The trouble with learning how to be patient is the fact that there are simply no shortcuts. There are no patience pills, rosetta stones or amazon primes for patience. Shortcuts are the epitome of impatient people - it takes patience to learn patience. Whatever little shred of it God may have gifted us with, we have to start with what we have. I don’t imagine successful farmers, having sown their seeds, sit around idly while they wait for the harvest - there is work to be done, and they know the harvest will come in it’s own time. How sweet it would be if we could get so invested and diligent in that work that, when the harvest comes, we will have forgotten we were even waiting in the first place and the reward is all the better for it.
*Afterword: As I sit down to finish this post (I started about a month ago.. patience, right?), I’m simultaneously mulling over my most recent need for patience. I have my right leg propped up on the chair across from me in a quaint little coffee shop off Main Street in Breckenridge, CO. Snow falls beyond the windows in front of me and hazes an otherwise clear view of the mountain I would much rather be on right now. It’s a story for another time, but yesterday I managed to get well acquainted with a tree that lines the narrow passes of a fun little bunny trail - several ice packs and ibuprofen later, and my ankle is still swollen and certainly worse for the wear. Let’s see if I can take my own advice..