I am learning patience. Slowly, little by little, I am learning real patience. There is a little bit of irony in that, because most people who know me would tell you that I am a very patient person. I never hurry for anything (except cookies). I stick to things for the long haul, regardless of how tough they become. I enjoy listening to people and I can take almost any kind of news without freaking out. I never freak out. I endure things calmly for long periods of time and absolutely refuse to give up.
The truth is, however, that that isn’t real patience. It bears a certain superficial resemblance to patience, but it really boils down to stubbornness. I don’t like to quit, I don’t like to seem not in control, I don’t like to be non-plussed or taken by surprise. So what seems like patience is really a long practiced habit of remaining level-headed and reasonable, no matter what happens. When other people are getting excited and losing their heads I like to be the one who can sit quietly and simply watch and listen to see what is really going on.
But this is not real patience. Real patience can only come through detachment. That’s why my habitual approach bears a superficial resemblance to real patience, because in order to practice it I have to detach from some things. In fact, I have to detach from most things. In order to maintain clearheadedness I have to let go of my expectations and desired outcomes. I need to be able to identify my own expectations and let go of them so that I can simply see what is and accept it. This is a good approach, and a good practice for real patience, but this natural level of detachment is not real patience, because the motivation is all wrong. I am detached from most things, but only because I am attached to something else. I am attached to my own level-headedness. I am stubbornly and fiercely devoted to my own ability to remain unfazed, to assess the situation and think my way out.
The truth, however, is that I cannot always do that. Sometimes even I get upset, or feel helpless or trapped. There are still some things that I really, truly desire with all my heart, so strongly that when they are threatened it can shake my self-absorbed calm.
But nothing that will not die can live. The false patience has to go away, to make room for the real patience, and in order to do that something must be threatened. Something I really, really want has to be taken away, maybe for a time, maybe permanently. The threat has to be real and serious or it will not break through the crust of self-sufficiency. I have covered over a great deal of selfishness with superficial calm, so the blade has to go deep, deep enough to expose the excuses, fears, insecurities.
Jesus will not hesitate to force the issue when He thinks it is time. The question is simple, “Will you trust me?”
“But I don’t ask for much. Why can’t you just let me have this one thing?”
“I’ve given up a lot of things in the past. Isn’t it time I got a little back in return?”
But He will not let up until all the excuses lie limp and wasted on the ground, and I am left with the naked truth, “I don’t want to. I want something other than what you are giving me.”
“Take this cup back. I don’t want to drink it.”
I have to be forced into this corner, kicking and screaming as it were, or I will never be able to learn the real patience that I need.
I already have the ability to wait for what I want, but that isn’t patience. That’s just an advanced form of delayed gratification. What I must learn now is to wait for what He wants, because only His work is guaranteed to be best for everyone involved. That is the only patience that is worth the name.
Now having described it to some extent, there remains only the task of doing it.