I used to do some freelance writing for eHow.com. With one tab open to Google, I wrote article after article of instructions on painting bookshelves and booking hotels in rural Alabama. In a matter of minutes I taught myself how to do things and passed on the information—and just like that, my name was suddenly some kind of authority.
Most of us have little patience for truly learning new skills or knowledge these days. We want an eHow article or a 15-second lifehack video. We’ve been taught that a quick Google search teaches us everything we need to know.
So how do we learn patience? Is there a how-to article on waiting well?
The answer, of course, is yes. There’s a how-to article for everything. But while “6 Steps with Pictures!” might get you to that party you’re excited about that’s still two days away, it’s unlikely to last you through the seasons when the promise of joy in the morning seems distant.
Scripture frequently calls us to wait for the Lord, but it is a rare soul that does that naturally. And while I cannot offer you an easy fix, I can point you to some spiritual disciplines that help to form in us an attitude of patience and waiting. They are delightful—and difficult. They will take a long time, and you will have to do them more than once. You will, most likely, have to wait to see results, but perhaps the discipline of having discipline will offer you a lesson while you wait.
Fasting means abstaining from something for a designated period of time, with the intention of focusing your attention on God. People will often fast from a particular type of food, but the term can apply to anything. If you’re looking to learn to wait well, fast from things that allow you to take shortcuts. Give up your microwave, start walking instead of driving, or stop using text messaging. And then, as you wait for your food to cook or wait to reach your destination, pray for patience. Meditate on what it means to wait. Be open to what God has to teach you.
The practice of taking a sabbath—a day of rest in the Lord—has much to teach us, but one of its lessons is patience. The sabbath says, to everything and everyone but God, “That can wait.” Taking a sabbath means learning to wait while spending a day intentionally and mindfully in God’s presence, and there is no better place to form the habit of waiting.
This discipline is exactly what it sounds like. Do things more slowly than you normally would. Linger over a cup of coffee. Don’t multitask. Cut every vegetable for the soup separately and by hand. Be aware of your walking pace. There are a thousand and one things in our life that we can slow down. And when we choose to slow our lives, we invite God into the space that opens up. We learn that the process of waiting is slow but sweet when it happens with God.
One of my favorite books paints a picture of spiritual patience that has never left me: “I know that my Lord is the God of wheat fields and oak trees, of mountains and valleys, and that His answers, like his works, often require time.”
The practice of contemplation itself is slow. It takes time away from other things. (Are you sensing a theme?) But more than that, by focusing on God’s creation, we can gain perspective on the grandness of God’s time scale, and what it means to wait within that.
Scripture Memorization and Meditation
It takes a long time to memorize a passage of scripture. I don’t mean just being able to repeat it; I mean really memorizing it, so that it sits secure and immovable in your heart and mind. Meditating on scripture not only teaches you patience as your spirit slows, but it also solidifies that scripture in your mind. Seek out scriptures about patience or waiting, and invite God to speak to you as you turn the words over in your mind.
The Church Calendar
The liturgical calendar has entire seasons dedicated to waiting. Following a traditional church calendar means that you are waiting in community with the church, past, present, and future. The calendar is a way of marking the passage of time, which we so earnestly do while we wait, but the rich tradition behind the church calendar extends our frame of reference for time beyond just our waiting period. It places our experience in the whole ongoing experience of the church, and teaches us to wait in community with others.
Don’t wait to begin waiting well. Which of these disciplines can you incorporate into your spiritual life?