Last week I was sitting in Relief Society during a lesson on Patience. This is not my favorite topic-okay, it’s my least favorite topic because I am painfully aware that, while I have made some strides in this area, it is still the trait I struggle most to acquire.
Admitted: I drive too fast.
Admitted: I turn up the heat and burn certain foods rather than let them simmer slowly.
Admitted: I will not wait more than 30 minutes in a doctor’s office.
Admitted: I grocery shop when few others do so I can zoom down the aisles at breakneck speed and be done, with a full cart, in about fifteen minutes.
Admitted: I won’t even consider going to the DMV without an appointment.
Admitted: In first grade my report card said, “Joni has a hard time being patient with her peers.”
Admitted: I once sprinkled Miracle Gro right on the plants, figuring the sprinklers would dilute it and save time. (My husband, Bob, saw me and said, “When a Miracle just isn’t fast enough. ” And yes, it killed the plants.)
Admitted: I cannot join a gym because every second that ticks by is a painful reminder that I’m not getting any productive work done. Ditto for relaxing in a chaise lounge.
Admitted: I cannot play chess because, even though I know how each piece moves, I cannot stand waiting for the other person to think and study before making a move. This also means that I do not think and study before making a move; hence I am a lousy player as well.
Admitted: I will not spend more than five minutes putting on my makeup.
Admitted: I do not pray for the attribute of patience because I know I will be givencorresponding trials to teach it to me.
Admitted: I mutter, “Close enough” several times a day.
Admitted: I cannot shop with a certain one of my adult sons because I will get a nervous tic as he studies peanut butter choices for eleven minutes.
So I was squirming through the lesson, wearing my invisible dunce cap that says, in neon letters, “THIS APPLIES TO JONI, ESPECIALLY.” And then, not one, but TWO amazing observations were made. And not by me, but by the teacher and a classmate.
FIRST MOMENT OF BEING THUNDERSTRUCK: The teacher pointed out that too many of us pushes ourselves too hard, and compare ourselves with others, a futile game in which we always come up short. “Stop comparing yourself to someone else’s highlights reel,” she said. Bingo! How often have we done that? How often have we met someone who’s wearing their best clothes, having their best hair day, and showing us only their best side (while someone nearby mentions their crowning achievements and their most dazzling children), as we stand there, bedraggled, in a soiled apron after working in the church kitchen to put on a ward dinner?
Let’s face it. We all have an outtakes reel, and we all have a highlights reel. If you were giving a talk and someone were to introduce you, of course they would mention only the positive things. I’ve thought about this, myself, as I’ve been introduced as a speaker and, true confession: I’ve almost laughed. Not because it’s untrue material, but because it’s so out of balance. If I had to, I could provide an equally long list of disasters and trials that would make everyone in attendance glad they didn’t have my problems! If life were really accurate, every glowing resume would have a flip side of your goofs and faults, the trials you’re facing, the plain old bad luck, the heartaches, the dumb choices, the things we’re so glad we can repent of. In short, all the reasons why a stranger would be glad to have their own bag of troubles, and not yours.
And this is true of everyone you meet. Everyone is battling something, and if they’re not, then they’re in an even worse state of ignorance about their need to improve. So it’s ridiculous to compare the flip side of our resume with the glossy front side of someone else’s. And by finally realizing that we run our own race, and it’s not even a race in the first place, we can be more patient with ourselves.
Yesterday I was reading in the 12th chapter of Hebrews, where Paul said, “… and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.” Okay, so it’s a race but not a speed race. (And don’t you dare mutter, “Oh my gosh, she was reading her scriptures!” The truth is I had planned to finish the New Testament by Christmas, and here we are a good bit later and I’m still not finished. Another chance for me to be patient with myself.)
SECOND MOMENT OF BEING THUNDERSTRUCK: A sister raised her hand and said she wanted to share the advice that, when we’re stressing and praying about a particular concern, we should first pray about whether it’s even something we need to worry about just now.
Hellooo? Her words hit me like the ton of bricks it often takes for me to finally grasp a grand truth. We often pray and worry about things so far removed from the Lord’s immediate timetable, so out of the realm of things we can solve, that it wastes immense resources of energy and concern, which could be better spent on the things we can actually address.
How often do we compile our own list of worries, hang onto it, and stew over things far beyond the scope of our influence (usually other people’s free agency). We look at our lives, find the flaws, and then keep a running list of reasons we’re unhappy, reasons why we need the Lord to intervene. And we take that list to the Lord and beg for his immediate help.
But how much better would we be served, if we first asked him if this is even a realistic list! Maybe, in his wisdom and timing, none of those things are in the plan for a few years. Maybe we’re just being impatient little mortals, scurrying around as if we know when and how He should involve Himself. Maybe we should pray to know what to pray for. And maybe it’s simply for the patience to endure a situation until the Lord deems it time to change it. Maybe our desires are contingent upon the growth of a third party. Maybe our desires would harm us if granted right away, and we can’t even see it. Maybe getting one thing we want now would prevent an even better thing later.
And how often do we keep approaching our Father in Heaven with our wish list, instead of genuinely trying to make our desires match His? Isn’t the purpose of prayer to bring our hearts into line with God’s, and figure out how we can best serve Him?
Later I thanked the sister for opening my eyes and she said, “Why weren’t we all taught this in Primary and Young Women’s? Think of the stress and anxiety it could have relieved!” And it’s there, of course, in the gospel when Christ tells us to give him our burdens, and let him bring peace to our souls.
We just don’t apply it as we should, in allowing the Lord to make our worry list, instead of thinking we have to make one all on our own, and then rush around like little ninnies, leaning unto our own understanding.
So… I still do too many things in a hurry, I still need to slow down and smell the roses. But now I will be more patient with my own progress. I will not be rushed by the need to compete with someone else’s highlights reel, and I will not try to hurry the Lord or hand him a list I made without His input. I will make every attempt to let go of the things I cannot control anyway, and to allow the Lord to direct my life and choose which things should have my attention, and which things are best handed over wholly to Him to solve.
My burden will be lighter, my schedule freer, my quiet moments less cluttered. I can feel the knots in my shoulders soften as I even consider crossing useless worries off my list. I will exercise faith instead of my own muscle, ready to do what I can, but equally ready to admit it when the task is beyond my reach. I’m learning that patience means you have a partner who can help; you are not alone to conquer the world by yourself. Imagine how patient the Lord has been, waiting for me to learn this.
Joni Hilton’s latest book is just out! “FUNERAL POTATOES-THE NOVEL” (Covenant Communications) is now in LDS bookstores.
She has written 17 books, three award-winning plays, and is a frequent public speaker and a former TV talk show host. She is also the author of the “As the Ward Turns” series, “The Ten-Cow Wives’ Club,” and “The Power of Prayer.” Hilton is a frequent writer for “Music &The Spoken Word,” many national magazines, and can be reached at her website, jonihilton.com. She is married to TV personality Bob Hilton, is the mother of four, and currently serves as Relief Society President in her ward in northern California.