As I contemplate another New Year’s approach, I have hope. There is much that makes me anxious and angry. There is much I don’t understand. There are many I would like to sit in a room and ask to behave … Continue reading →
Spring always reminds me of what’s possible. It’s difficult not to dream during this season. As branches begin to bear blossoms, I start to think about what I want, hope for, and need. Some people resolve to change in January—to … Continue reading →
I was recently asked which gift I wanted for Christmas: hope, joy, light, or peace—and to imagine my choice beautifully wrapped and waiting under the tree. Which gift do I want? How can I pick just one? Call me selfish, … Continue reading →
I am thankful for now—this season of fruitfulness and happiness. I have spent a sufficient number of days in the darkness to be exceedingly grateful for this time in the light. It’s sometimes hard to not worry that the other … Continue reading →
Once upon a time there was a tentative seed. She very much wanted to break though to the world above, but first she wanted some assurances that there would be enough water and sun. Every day she’d ask herself, “If … Continue reading →
Be patient. How easy it is to resent those words—especially in this digital world. Those of us who used to type on typewriters and find source materials at libraries now grow irritated when a Word document or website takes too long to load. We become impatient in minutes. It has become realistic to find or receive what we want in seconds. It is an uphill journey to learn and maintain patience in a culture that gorges itself on instant gratification.
Fast can be wonderful, but sometimes slow is better. Look at the world God created. Take a lesson from nature. Few things happen in an instant. Gestation, the seasons, or fruit on a tree—the world is full of things that take time to ripen, mature, or grow before they can be enjoyed at their peak.
Patience is important. Good things are worth the wait. And more than that, the wait is worth something as well. Sometimes the time spent in expectation is worth more that whatever it is we’re waiting for. So much can be learned in the silence, stillness, or tension that rests between the desire and its realization.
Patience is connected to faith. The process of trusting has its own worth—the act of having peace and reassurance without knowing or seeing whence or how our hopes or dreams will come to us. In the season of anticipation we increase the worth and weight of our faith. We see our currency of trust in God appreciate in value. And once what we hoped for arrives, we find the wait has made having it better. We treasure it more because it was elusive or slow in coming.
Patience isn’t just a virtue; it is often necessary. Sometimes we’re not equipped to have what we want, but sometimes it’s what we want that isn’t ready. Some of our dreams need time to develop and ripen on their metaphorical trees. If we force it, if we try to take hold of it too soon, it will be like eating fruit that hasn’t ripened or giving up on climbing the mountain before reaching its peak. The view might be good, but not as great as it could have been. The fruit is nice, but not nearly as sweet. We end up with a lesser version of what we would have had if only we had waited.
I am not a patient person. Patience is a lesson I’m still learning. It’s a challenge. I am trying to live a life of ambitious contentment. I don’t want my impatience to compel me towards imprudence or chain me to disappointment.
In my professional life, 2014 was a year of projected hits that turned into misses. The trajectories of my dreams were modest at best. I faced disappointment, but I didn’t dwell in it or become discouraged—a minor miracle. Even though all those doors that cracked open eventually closed in my face, I remained patient. I had (I have) faith. And so I wait to see if and when I’ll find new doors willing to open fully for me to walk through.
Time and time again, I’ve seen that few things of great value are fleeting opportunities. More often than not (at least in my life) they are the culmination of a season of waiting and working, maturing and strengthening, or observing and learning.
Patient ambition—or content anticipation—that is what I am aiming for. Don’t let me lose my peace and joy in the now simply because I don’t have something yet. I want to be able to want and to be satisfied while I wait.
I have only successfully broken one dependence-level bad habit—sucking my thumb. When I finally decided to quit (at an age that I won’t mention because it’s too embarrassingly late), I had to sleep with a glove on my right hand for weeks. I’m sure Freud would have had his theories on my oral fixation, but all I know is that breaking the habit was traumatic for me. The self-soothing sensation proved to be irreplaceable. Once the habit was successfully broken, the desire for the comfort it brought remained, but I could find nothing that made me feel the same way. And trying to return to it no longer produced the same effect. The shape of my thumb had changed. It no longer fit into my mouth like the right key. The emotional ache was there, but the means to sate it had been rendered ineffective. Falling asleep became and remained harder. It took a while before I again felt moored within myself—years before the interior disquiet faded.
As an adult, I have a number of bad habits that I’d like to break—chewing at the inside of my mouth being at the forefront. It’s a habit I’ve had for as long as I can remember, and one that became worse once I stopped sucking my thumb. (Go figure.) I also have a patch of hair that I can’t stop pulling at. It’s the shorter, weaker hair that grew in the wake of a chemical burn I suffered years ago. Probably because of some mild nerve damage, playing with that hair produces a unique sensation, and I can’t leave it alone—which is probably why those hairs are still shorter and weaker than their neighbors are.
Some of my bad habits are actually the absence of a good habit. I don’t floss daily. Some nights I don’t brush my teeth at all. I don’t always eat fresh food—I buy and consume things that are processed, dyed, or deep-fried. Every now and again I turn the burner on the stovetop to “lo” instead of “off.” That would bother me less if my apartment building hadn’t burned down a few years ago. (Please note: I was not the cause of the inferno.) I take a lot of good things (and people) for granted. I sometimes forget to be grateful for the blessings in my life—not to mention the many hardships God has helped me to avoid.
Some of my bad habits are emotional. I have a short temper. I can go from content to irritated in the blink of an eye—be it due to a driver cutting me off or a loud conversation I can’t ignore on the subway. I’m easily frustrated when situations don’t go the way I want them to, when people don’t act as they should (or promised they would), or when someone else ignores, dismisses, or derides my point of view. Not surprisingly, I can be very judgmental and critical of others. Sometimes I turn that inward and berate myself for perceived errors.
It matters too much to me when people get away with doing something wrong—especially if it’s something I’ve gotten into trouble for doing—or been tempted to do, but refrained. I spend too much time worrying about what others think of me—as a Christian, writer, woman, athlete, friend, relative, or stranger. I care more than I should when I fail.
There are some bad habits that I’ve been fighting for years—the subjugation of which I imagine will last the full length of my life. Hand in hand, my attempts to be (or compare myself to) someone I’m not or be flawless hold me back in every facet of my life. I know perfection is an illusion, but I still spend a lot of time pursuing it (sometimes consciously, sometimes thoughtlessly out of blind habit). I know that I can’t live anyone’s life but mine, but I still find myself comparing my talents, accomplishments, experiences, relationships, et cetera to those of someone else. And when I spend too much time comparing, I’m opening the door to let jealously in.
While I don’t make formal New Year’s Resolutions, I do pause to think about what I want to invest in and any bad habits I want to break. This year, I will try to be less judgmental of others. I want to remember that not everyone remains an angel in hellish situations. I want to be inquisitive before I’m critical—to seek understanding instead of making assumptions. Because even though it’s easy to forget, we’re all human and flawed. Each one of us is endeavoring to endure or enjoy the day-to-day experiences of our existence. Regardless of whether a person appears to be mastering or damaging his or her life, no one is trying to fail. Everyone is doing the best he or she can—and has a unique combination of internal and external resources and restrictions to navigate.
Just a few days ago I went though my box of cards and letters—those I’ve received and saved over the years. They ranged from birthday and Christmas greetings to congratulations on my engagement/marriage to notes of thanks to letters of encouragement. Some had accompanied gifts; some were expressions of sympathy. A few were written by friends; others were penned by members of my family. Some of the authors are still a part of my life; some, sadly, are no longer living. I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love, support, and generosity those missives represented. I was reminded of the faithfulness of my family and friends. They have shared my joy, celebrated my accomplishments, encouraged my dreams, and supported me through my losses and disappointments.
After reading those cards and letters, I had to admit to myself that I had failed some of my friendships. I had let seasons pass and kept things too superficial—allowing the majority of our connection to remain in the shallows of Facebook. I had gotten distracted and busy. I hadn’t made time. I had forgotten to visit, call, or write. I felt convicted by my neglect, and became determined to remedy it.
It’s easy for me to get so caught up in the routines of life and trying to earn a living that I forget to carve out time to nurture friendships, especially those that will diminish without intentionality—the friends I won’t run into at church, volleyball games, or writer’s group, or the ones who have moved away to other states, cities, or neighborhoods.
I want to do better this year. I want to go broader and deeper. I want to spend more time—and time of quality—with those people who are important to me. I am determined to let more than nostalgia and good intentions support the friendships that have sustained, matured, and blessed me.
This year (and every year going forward) I want to see my best as good enough—and to see the best of others the same way. I want to pursue my goals with hope and grounded motivation rather than resentment or hysteric desperation. I want to criticize less and ask more questions. I want to champion rather than covet others’ successes and blessings. I want to put more of myself (and my time) into my friendships. I want to waste less energy attempting to be perfect or someone else. After all, why should I try so hard to be someone I’m not when it’s hard enough just being myself?
Sometimes I feel as though fear and worry have entered my head like a pair of spiders and spun a web of anxiety that catches hold of my other emotions––my hopes and dreams as well––keeping them all stuck until they’re sucked lifeless. Fear is not always the primary emotion. Quite often it is mixed with other hues and colors––the grayed blue of sadness or a fiery shade of anger.
My fear is inversely proportional to my faith. If I believed more (in God, others, myself) I’m sure I’d worry less. Too often I am so focused on some frightful, imagined future, that I am blind to the benefits and blessings of the present. I worry about today’s decisions because I am trying to protect myself (or someone else) from some future consequence that isn’t guaranteed to occur. I’ve replaced the imaginary friends of my youth with many imaginary outcomes (and they’re almost always ominous).
I let fear and worry get in my way a lot. They hold me back from making decisions and changes or taking risks. What I fear is often hypothetical (and unlikely), but even knowing that, I still see it as an obstacle. And if I don’t overcome it, trepidation keeps me immobilized when I need to start making progress.
What do I fear? I fear loosing more of my loved ones. I’m afraid that I’m too insecure and too over-confident. I fear that my right leg will always be smaller than my left. I fear that I will fail in achieving my dreams—and that my failure will not be the result of rejection or a lack of ability, but of defeating myself with weapons of self destruction—that I’ll talk myself out of trying. I fear that I don’t know the way. And while I suspect God is calling me to focus on and follow the sound of his voice, I fear I’m not really listening. I’m afraid that I’m afraid of too many things, and that my fears get in the way of my living.
Sometimes I’m afraid of failure; sometimes I’m afraid of success. I’m as fearful of being utterly miserable as I am of being blissfully content. When things are going well for me, I worry that the good will end abruptly or that it will elicit jealousy from others. When things are bleak, frustrating, or disappointing, I fear that it will always be like this.
I’m afraid of the dark—the type of dark that’s so complete is leaves no room for shadows. I’m afraid that I, myself, am the biggest obstacle standing in my way. I’m afraid that I don’t really know what I want—or that what I want is bad or wrong for me. I fear that fear will rob me of my other feelings.
I’m afraid of rats, roaches, skydiving, being in a serious car accident, going to outer space, submerging in a submarine, putting my head in an MRI machine, and loosing my car keys. (I don’t have a spare set.) I’m also afraid of being robbed, witnessing a shooting, and being convicted of a crime I didn’t commit. I used to be afraid of falling into a pit of quicksand, but I’ve come to realize the unlikelihood of that.
My two cats (Carrie and Mr. Big) have taught me a few things about fear and overcoming it. When I first brought them home, I had to mediate a peaceful encounter between them and Joey, my sister’s dog. My initial instinct was to hold the kittens and let Joey approach them. I tried with Mr. Big first.
My method failed, and I soon figured out why. I knew the kittens would be safe in my arms and that Joey wasn’t a threat to them, but they didn’t. I then realized it made more sense to hold Joey back because he already knew and trusted me. So for attempt number two, I wrapped my arms around Joey to keep him stationary, and let the kittens comes as close as they dared to. Within minutes, Carrie and Joey were fast friends. Mr. Big, somewhat scarred (emotionally) from my failed experiment, eventually came around as well.
This is what I learned from that: Always give the more fearful thing the freedom of flight. When introducing two non-equals (e.g., a dog and a kitten), hold the “beast” back. Sometimes I wonder if God does this for us. I suspect that when we find ourselves up against a brutish reality and we feel vulnerable and exposed—as though God’s hands aren’t under or around us, it is because He is holding back our enemy and giving us the freedom to move. We can flee, we see that God has bound our adversary, or we can approach and realize the monster we once feared is benign or just a big, friendly puppy.
I have to regularly remind myself that God is much bigger than any of my fears or other mental demons. Nothing is beyond His reach or His power. The worst I can imagine isn’t more than God can handle—and it’s also very unlikely to happen.
I don’t want to live in fear. On the surface it looks like I’m being practical, but sometimes “being practical” is just a shiny façade covering over fear and dulled faith. I don’t want to remain boxed in by the weakness of my belief or shackled by my limited view of what’s possible. I don’t want fear to be the part of my imagination that I have the easiest time believing or that gets the most use.
I don’t know what is out there behind each of my fears and worries or beyond the limits of what I can see and dream, but I have a feeling that only by leaping will I acquire the faith the leap.