Monday, January 17, 2011

Impatient patient

I'm beginning to understand why the word patience is basically the word patient. Patients really need patience.

I finally got to go to cardiac rehabilitation (can you already tell how impatient I was to get started??) and it sort of set my whole weekend up on a theme. I was told a couple things that morning. I was not allowed to run for another 2 weeks, and the little running I had been doing and justifying to myself could possibly have been putting my recovery in jeopardy. In fact, a lot of what I have been doing has been putting my recovery in jeopardy. I haven't been sleeping like I know I should. I have been trying to do everything and stretching myself entirely too thin, even for a person not recovering from heart surgery. I have been trying to do so much (work, jail ministry, small group, running, devotionals, recovery) that I haven't been able to do any of it properly. In fact, I may be doing more damage by doing all of these half-way then by not doing them at all. I've been lying to myself for weeks now, telling myself I am recovered. I am not.

As I was leaving cardiac rehab Friday morning, I caught myself praying for patience. The patience to wait to run and to sit through my recovery like I should be. Two things occurred to me as I wait at the stoplight praying for that. One, I have prayed this prayer before. And two, God was answering it already.

I should have known better. I know God doesn't just flip a switch, and all of a sudden I have patience. Yet that's exactly what I wanted. God provides me the opportunity to learn patience, and that he has certainly provided to me.

So I have spent this weekend trying to figure out how I learn patience. Of course, silly me, I sort of vainly hoped that I could learn patience in a single weekend. Can I hurry up and learn how to be patient already?! Ooooh silly me. I think it will take some time before I've got patience figured out entirely. And I'm not convinced I ever really will know everything there is to patience: I'm human and flawed and I want things now. I think it's in our nature to be impatient and it's something the devil plays to. (Hey Jesus, turn that stone to bread! "Man does not live on bread alone" Hey Jesus, I will give you the world right now! Just worship me first. "Worship the Lord your God and serve him only". Luke 4) The devil plays upon on our need for instant gratification. Jesus replies not only with the Word that is specifically applicable, but he is patient for God for those things which the devil tries to offer him.

So I've come to think that being patient is faith that God will deliver what you are waiting for. Closely linked to patience is perseverance, because sometimes God gives you a cup to drink before you have what He has promised you.

As I've been dwelling on how desperate I am to run again, I was thinking about the last half-marathon I completed. I can easily say it was the fastest, most comfortable race I've been in, and it was the only one I had a plan for. All the other races I've been in, I had an ad-hoc, shoot from the hip, how am I feeling today approach. And none of those races turned out as well for me as that last one that I had trained specifically for. I had a goal and a plan.

I'm thinking that patience is a lot like that too. We have the strength to be more patient when we know there is a goal and a plan to get there.

What if anyone could receive a medal for a finishing a race, even if you didn't race it? Would something like that even mean anything to you? You didn't have to do anything to earn it.

Part of what makes running and these races so special is that not everyone has the patience to endure them. And it does take a lot of patience to train for months and years and to persevere through the inevitable challenges. But the benefits far out weigh the challenges.

On today, MLKjr day, I've seen this quote flashed around: "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase." I think patience is like staying on that step as long as you need to, and not attempting to skip over parts of the staircase. There is no shortcut to faith, or to those things we patiently await. So how do we focus on our goal and be patient while we work towards that? I think Paul lays out some of that for us:
"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)

As James says, "Every good and perfect gift is from above" (James 1:17)

I think it's also closely related to what follows in that chapter. I feel like athletes especially like to focus on 4:13, but I think God gives us not only physical strength, but the strength for patience and to be content despite our circumstances.
"I have learned the secret of being content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:11-13)

So we focus on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, what is excellent or praiseworthy. These are things for us to focus on instead of our circumstances, instead of what we are impatient for. We focus on these as we faithfully take things one step at a time. We focus on these as we follow a plan towards our goal, even and especially when our plan calls not for action, but for inaction.

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