Weekly Edgework #32 - Feb. 7, 2005

The Ground I Stand On

Let’s be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand (Bread for the Journey, Henri Nouwen).

For most of us, patience is an elusive virtue. That is to say that we are naturally inclined to be impatient. It is only with concerted effort in the exercise of spiritual disciplines that we gradually learn to become truly patient.

Being impatient is always an unpleasant experience. That is so because we consider what we are waiting for to have more value than what we are experiencing right now. When I was a child, the days leading up to Christmas were filled with impatience. I could hardly wait until I could open the gifts my parents would give me. I wanted each day to pass by quickly so that I could stand at the threshold of Christmas Day as soon as possible. But it seemed that the more I wished for time to speed up, the slower it went and the more impatient I got. Opening gifts on Christmas Day was infinitely more valuable to me than waiting out the days until Christmas would arrive.

Now it could be argued that such waiting for something to happen is the necessary soil in which to grow patience. As one gets older one gradually realizes that there is little point to making today miserable because we are waiting for something good to happen tomorrow. If our present happiness always depends on something to happen that is out of our control, we will always be impatient. We might even say that we are patiently waiting for the bus to arrive, a snowstorm to stop or a friend to call. But if that waiting time is filled with anxious thoughts or a wish for time to speed up, we are actually waiting impatiently.

Patience does not make demands. Nor is it an impassive waiting for something to happen. To be truly patient is to recognize that each moment has its own potential. That being the case, patient persons live each present moment to the full – “milking it” for all it’s worth. In that sense it eliminates the waiting game. No longer are we eager to escape the present moment for a time somewhere in the future. As we focus on discovering the treasure that lies hidden in the present moment we uncover the true meaning of patience. If we can not find treasures in the present moment – beneath our feet - we are unlikely to find true treasures in the future. Treasures are always found today, never tomorrow, because tomorrow never comes.

This continues to be a hard lesson for me to learn. When my health is not at its prime, I tend to think that all is lost until my health is fully restored. But if I am truly patient I will look for the treasure that I can unearth during my illness, and perhaps because of it. To be “patient in affliction” (Romans 12:12) does not mean to fold your hands passively and wait for a sunnier day. It means drawing nutrients from that present affliction to fertilize the soil of our hearts. And we know that growth happens best in well-fertilized soil.

But even when I am physically well, I am still tempted to live in the future. Somewhere down the road, I say to myself, around the next bend, I will find happiness or fulfillment. - meanwhile leaving the present moment unmined for what it’s worth. I am still in the process of learning to live each moment to its fullest potential. The closer I come to this goal, the less waiting I need to do. Impatience thrives on the waiting game. Patience thrives on living fully right now.