Patience: Treasuring the Ground on Which We Stand

Patience is not a waiting passivity until someone else does something. Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later and somewhere else. Let’s be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand.

- Henri Nouwen

Sundial at Jewel Box, Forest Park in St. Louis (photo by Steve Givens)

So often over the years I have found myself the impatient person described above, especially when it comes to waiting for God to act. I wanted to believe that the “real thing,” the better thing, my true purpose, was always just around the corner, just over the horizon, just about to happen.

I think the most fervent and continuously prayed prayer of my adult life has been some version of this: “Show me your will for my life, God, and I’ll go do it. Just show me. Make it clear.” And then I would add parenthetically: “It would be nice if you would do that soon, please. But not TOO soon because I still have this and this and this to take care of…”

Whatever it lacks, this kind of prayer is still a prayer of faith. But the problem, as Henri Nouwen points out, is that this kind of faith seems to deny the importance of who I am and what I am supposed to be doing right now, on “the ground on which we stand.” It says, “I’m getting impatient here, God, and where I am right now can’t possibly be where you want me to be…there has to be something better.”

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong in asking God for direction. And there’s nothing wrong in telling God that you are open to his call for your future. Our ongoing journeys of discerning God’s will are the most important things we do as mature Christians. Nevertheless, if we continually ask God, “what do you want me to do?” we may be ignoring what’s in front of our eyes. Right now, we’re called to respond to the life God has given and the situation into which God has placed us. Good or bad. Healthy or unhealthy. Successful or not. We are called to embrace the present, to be aware of God’s movement right now, to act in response to our current circumstances and not just wish for better days somewhere in the future when we will have a clearer sense of purpose and call. We are called to be patient.

Woman on Lamma Island, near Hong Kong (photo by Steve Givens)

So I’m asking myself today (on my 52nd birthday!): How am I responding (or not responding) to those around me? How am I caring for (or ignoring) those in need? What social injustice has slipped off my radar screen because I’m too busy asking God what he wants me to do some day down the road? How much of the beauty of today will I miss because I’m impatient or anxious about tomorrow?

Our ability to be both truly present to one another and aware of God’s presence in our lives is a gift unto itself. It is our calling. There’s nothing more important we can do today.

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