On Patience

Anyone who has ever allowed a toddler to “help” with any task knows the meaning of patience. sweep

Willa’s current word for when she wants to do something without help is “try”. Or more accurately, “twy”. We’re filling up her water cup for bedtime and I start to put the cup under the spout…”NO, mommy! TWY!” A large puddle of water and a few minutes of cleanup later, and we’re back on the path to mommy’s clock-out time bedtime. I begin putting her shoes on because we are running late…”TWY! TWY!” A few mommy deep breathing exercises and some toddler frustration later, and we are running even later, but now at least on our way to the car. I open the door and reach down to pick her up…”No! TWY!” As she strains and struggles and slips a few times, I take more deep breaths and try to remain thankful for this stubborn little climber who is now very proud of herself, but who has also made us very late. As I buckle her into the carseat….”Twy dis one!” She always wants to fasten the top buckle herself, and trying to get away with doing it for her is just asking for it. Resistance. Is. Futile.

One of the hardest adjustments of motherhood for me has been slowing down. Before I had kids, I was carefree and spontaneous, constantly flitting about and accustomed to walking out the door 2 minutes after the whim to leave hit me. When I had my first baby, I adjusted to spending 45 minutes of prep time feeding, packing the diaper bag, and changing myself and the baby 3 times to not smell like spit up at Target. (Of course I quickly just gave up on that and began smelling like spit up everywhere I went for awhile.) After I got the hang of that, it was another shock when I had to learn what it was like to have to return to a store 2-3 times in one day to get what I needed because my toddler’s tantrums forced me to leave a full cart at the door. After I waltzed through narrowly survived that phase, it was onto proactive parenting, training, and prep work before every event, social gathering, and outing we did.

The point of all this is to say that, as a parent, I am no longer in control of my life. I am at the mercy of circumstances (and bodily functions) that are no longer under my jurisdiction. My life is affected by a million things a day that are not what I would’ve chosen, and I am presented with a choice: become anxious, frustrated, angry, belligerent, and whiny, OR become patient.

Patience in the dictionary is defined as follows:

“the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like. An ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay. Quiet, steady perseverance; even-tempered care; diligence.”

I have plenty of provocations, annoyances, and pain in my life, but I can’t say I have always endured them without complaint or even anger. My feathers get ruffled easily, and I grow impatient with any setback or bump in the road.

Over the past couple years, God has been sanding down my rough edges in this area. Like all good capitalists, I like quick returns on my investment, I like success, I like results. The problem is, the Kingdom of God is all upside down from our world system and it often looks all wrong to us. God’s love is not efficient. The way of Jesus is not efficient. But that’s why one of God’s attributes is patience.

“Then Jesus said, ‘What is the Kingdom of God like? How can I illustrate it? It is like a tiny mustard seed that a man planted in a garden; it grows and becomes a tree, and the birds make nests in its branches….It is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.’”

Luke 13:18-21

I am not a gardener, precisely because I am not patient. It takes years for a seed to grow into a tree, and ain’t nobody round here got that kinda time. Kidding—kind of. (There is a stunning lack of plants in our front yard, pointing to the fact that it’s maybe not a joke.) I am also not a “make my own bread” type of person. Now, bless you if you are, but I just cannot abide all the kneading, and working, and waiting, and rising, and kneading, and…I can’t go on. I’m already over it.

Jesus handpicked these metaphors for a reason: gardening and baking bread require a substantial amount of patience. They are slow. They require lots of hard work with long periods of time where you don’t see results. They are subject to outside variables that can’t be controlled. God has been reminding me, ever so gently, that he is not in a hurry. When I wish I would see change or fruit or results faster, he reminds me that he is a gardener, and it’s natural for things to take time. He can wait. When I’m starting to panic a little because things are still broken and I can’t even see justice on the horizon, he reminds me that he is a baker, and he’s not concerned that five minutes have passed and the bread hasn’t risen yet. He knows it will happen.

At the end of the “parable of the sower” where Jesus describes the seed that fell on four different types of soil, he explains it to his disciples. His last statement about it is this:

“And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest.”

Luke 8:15

Huge harvests require patience. So how do we cultivate that in our lives? How do we feed it and nurture it? We cling to God’s word, his truth that he has overcome and everything will turn out all right in the end. We have to realize that if everything is not alright, it’s not the end, and we may not see what we long for until THE END. We have to spend time with gardener/baker himself. We must sit at his feet and become a student and disciple of the patient one.

And then, sometimes, he sends us little “helpers” to give us practice: toddlers, people that irk us and grate against our nerves, or inconveniences and setbacks. Will we keep writhing in protest that we are not in control, or will we stop struggling, breathe deep, and trust the one who is shaping and forming us to his image? Let’s choose the latter together. Let’s live full of the Spirit of God, and allow his patience work its way into us.