The other day I was sitting with my sister as I peeled back the wrapper on a fun size crunch bar. I told her how I used to put those in my mouth and let them melt until they were only the puffed rice. “They must have changed the recipe though, because I can never get down to the rice anymore,” I said.
“Or maybe you’re just not patient enough to wait that long anymore,” she responded in her guileless wisdom.
Sure enough, in a private moment later I forced myself to hold out a little longer on the little confection and indeed it is not the crunch bar recipe that has changed, I have.
It seems embarrassing that I’d exercise more patience as a child with no particular sense of perspective than I can as an adult that supposedly has much more knowledge and has had an occasional look at the bigger picture.
That same sister once sent me a page of Preach my Gospel on the subject of patience when I was struggling with a particular social situation. I began to dutifully go through each scripture trying to understand how they could help my situation, but I didn’t even have the patience to finish the list. It seemed to me that each example was someone who was patiently waiting for a specific promise from the Lord that they’d been guaranteed in some demonstrable way. With a vision from the Lord to see what was to come, it must have been easier for them to suppress the restlessness that comes with uncertainty.
Restlessness. That is the form my impatience takes. I saw a segment of Sesame Street recently where Tom Hiddleston (you may know him as Loki from Thor and The Avengers) was trying to teach Cookie Monster about the concept of delayed gratification. Cookie Monster desperately wanted the cookie in Tom’s hand, but Tom assured him he would be rewarded for waiting. Eventually, though Cookie Monster hardly finds his own forbearance in the task, Tom brings him a whole plate of cookies for being patient.
I feel sometimes, in weak moments, that if I could just press my nose up to the bakery window and see the plate of cookies meant for me—just to know there is one—I could be patient indefinitely.
But mostly I don’t get to see it so I’m left fearing that it doesn’t exist.
“…but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope” (Romans 5:3-4). I believe that there is a particular patience developed from making it to the other side of a tribulation. Learning about your own capacity for endurance and realizing how things eventually pass prepares you to bear the next trial with more clarity and less hopelessness. The part of the above scripture that I’m wary of is whether what I’ve just defined can really be called hope.’ Knowing that you can survive does not necessarily mean believing you will thrive.
I’m in a crucial crossroads in my life right now (does anyone else feel like being in your twenties is just one continual critical moment? It is so exhausting). The restlessness I’m unable to quiet is an unquenchable desire to know what’s going to happen next. When I was working through my undergraduate degree, whatever other detours I took, I knew there was an ultimate goal that could mark my progress.
People tell you that being out of school is scary because of the responsibility, but I think it’s scarier to no longer be able to measure where all of the responsibility is getting you. I liked having fall semesters and then winter semesters and sophomore years that ended making room for junior years. You knew whether you were getting closer to what you wanted and approximately how soon you’d get there. Now, finding benchmarks and indicators of progression is more elusive, you wake up and work and go to bed to wake up and do the same thing the next day. There are no midterms to mark the halfway point or report cards to see how you did. In moments of panic it feels like you might never know if you’re getting closer to the desired outcome again. And even that’s only for those who know what their desired outcome is.
Perhaps I’m wrong about those people in the scriptures that had visions and specific promises from the Lord about what was to come though. Perhaps it is no easier to already know a bit of the end from the beginning if you’re still limited in human understanding as to how one might reach that end from one’s current position.
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13). I’m sure Abraham could not understand how sacrificing his miracle son, his only offspring by Sarah, would help fulfill the divine promise that he would be the father of many nations. Yet he moved forward with faith, leaning not unto his on understanding.
I think my own hope in the past has always been centered around hoping for positive outcomes or the advent of particular events. I have hope that I will procure the money to pay for this internship or I have hope that I will fall in love or I have hope that new opportunities will arise in a timeframe I have set for myself.
But perhaps hope is less about trusting in the arrival of certain events and more about putting absolute trust in Jesus Christ regardless of what events do or do not occur in the order you expected. Moving forward without waiting for certainty of how it is all going to come together, with confidence that the Lord knows the desires of your heart and the potential for growth that you’re ignoring, is the only way to develop real abiding trust in Him. It is so much harder to do than to say, but through that reliance will come the patience that I’m finding it impossible to develop on my own.
“For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it…And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God.
“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:24-25, 28, 38-39).