Wednesday, October 25, 2006

It's a Virtue

tonight i went to a bible study that i have been a part of for a few years. this semester i am more of a lurker because i just don't have the space for one more thing, so the homework goes by the wayside. however, this particular study is by Beth Moore, and if anyone has ever done one of her studies, you are aquainted with her dynamic video lectures (and good ol' southern-woman-hair).

this study is on the fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control), with each characteristic getting a week each--this week was "patience". patience is one of those things that is joked about in christian circles, as in, don't pray for patience, because then you are *really* in for it. it almost feels like a superstition--the closer you get to patience, the harder your life will be, so beware of this one, girls! but tonight i was struck by the magnitude of my own impatience, and particularly with my boys. husband too, for that matter, but at least he can stand up for himself.

lately it feels like everything in my life is in fast-forward, and my children take the brunt of my inability to cope with all that we are and have been juggling. new job. new house. new baby. new dietary restrictions. and so i try to get here and there and this and that and meanwhile my kids are doing the things that kids do, like running over my feet with the mini-grocery carts at vitamin cottage, and ripping the newspaper into tiny pieces all over their room, and pummelling each other with the broomstick horse, and i just want them to or maybe it's nothing that they did at all, they are just too slow, too small, too tired, and i am unwilling to cut them any slack. when did they become the scapegoats for my own inadequacy?

so beth moore makes the observation that the times when others are driving us crazy are the times when God is working to refine the crap that is in our own hearts, to purify them so that we can become a truer likeness of him and more effective in our lives as believers. which makes total sense in my situation. my kids have nothing to do with the circumstances that surround our family right now--they had absolutely no say in them at all. and yet, how much easier is it for me to look at the things they do and think, 'if only they were not so _____, my life would be so much easier.' i could have the pretense of keeping it all together, of having some kind of storybook life, if only.

but then i see the wisdom of leaching all that ugliness out of my heart, so that i can look at my children when they are *being children* and give them some small piece of the grace that God has shown to me in the midst of my own shortcomings. so, i guess it's time to ditch the superstition, and pray for patience. because, God knows, i really need some.


Anonymous said...

Caveat: this comes from a non-Christian with a lot of Christian friends.

Where do you draw the line between trying to be perfect/storybook and trying to listen to what God is telling you? When is your frustration with others a lesson and when is it just something to get through? Do you have to learn from every moment in your life or is it okay to just make it through with as little damage as possible? How do you tell the difference between beating yourself up for something and God beating you up for a good reason?

I'm a perfectionist, just like you – an oldest child problem (sorry to say Nicholas). I had a meltdown last night because I have totally failed to create the exhibit I intended – in part because I desire perfection, in part because I try to do too much, in part because I expect too much from the folks around me, and in part because they let me down. Some of those pieces are things for me to work on, and some are things I have to let go.

But I only have to live with those challenges 8-10 hours a day (and whenever they creep into my 5am dreams). The consequences of not learning my lesson are not dire, except for myself. You've got the added pressure that there are consequences for more people involved. However I doubt Daniel is going to look back at his childhood and say, mom sure was cranky when I was little. He's going to enjoy every moment while it's happening, be sad at the cranky moments, but know that he is loved. How fundamental is that?

And here's a twist that probably doesn't work, but I'm curious if you think it's just the rationalizationist coming out in me.

If God is showing you that you need patience with your children because their behavior is just what you'd expect from a kid and it's not their fault that life's crazy, maybe that's also because YOU need patience so you can love yourself. If only you were not so impatient, your life would be so much easier. Maybe the real challenge is letting go of all the "if only"s.

I say this because I see it in myself – if only I were perfect, I wouldn't have to be so worried about being perfect. If only I went to bed early, I wouldn't be so tired. If only I could do things faster, I could get more done.

When I mentioned to a friend of mine that my life was too busy and I keep thinking I'll be able to slow it down and enjoy it, she said, "or maybe you just need to decide that you like your life busy. It's better than being bored." Well, I haven’t embraced that philosophy yet, but if only I would….

:) S

christy said...

what i love about you, stacy, is that you so often have more questions than are allowed in the space/time continuum. this makes me feel like less of a silly freak. :)

i do think that there is a difference between beating myself up and God "beating me up for a good reason"--although i also think that the lessons that God teaches are not "beating up" in the sense of flogging for the sake of flogging. just like the discipline that i sometimes need to give to my children, which hopefully is motivated by love and the view toward something better, so also do i think that God disciplines me when i am wrongheaded or stubborn, or whatever. not for a punishment, but with the hope that on the other side of the problem, things will be better. thankfully, he is better at that than i am.

and, while i don't think that i have to learn from every moment of my life, i do think that everything happens for a reason according to the plans that God has for me. that any set of circumstances, even the hard ones, even the ones that are all my own dumb fault, or the ones that happen that i have no control over--they all can be used by God for a good end. i think that it can give shape and meaning to an otherwise fairly arbitrary set of events, and that instead of just "making it through", i can trust that in the end, this painful piece will have a purpose. it's that whole bearing fruit thing--in this case, hopefully more patience.

but i do think that the idea of having more patience with myself is a good one to remember. not in the sense of giving myself an excuse not to change, but in order to remember that i don't have to be perfect, and that God's love for me is not contingent on my performance in this or any other area of my life.

and that self-patience thing is good for you too.... bum exhibit or not, you are loved, by God, by me, especially by me.