Let's try this once more
We all have lessons in life that make us feel like God has put His finger on the repeat button and forgotten to remove it. Frequently I find myself asking Him, "Didn't I already show you that I learned this? Why are we doing this again?"
As a former teacher, I know that when I teach a concept I must first introduce it to the students, reinforce it with supplemental activities, and then allow them to demonstrate mastery through some appropriate means of assessment. Because there are a myriad of concepts to be covered in the school year, students must demonstrate mastery in a short amount of time so that the next concept can follow suit. The students will likely forget what they've mastered within the year, but for the means of testing, it's a viable strategy. Apparently such methods don't exist when the teacher is a deity that exists outside of time and is more concerned with the total transformation of the student than a passed test.
Introducing the concept
Have you ever rushed a potty training toddler off of the toilet only to discover an ominous looking puddle on the carpet a few minutes later? I have. Have you ever sped to reach a particular event on time only to be stopped by a cop with sloth-like tendencies who causes you to lose all the precious time you had gained? I have. Have you ever been in a matatu that is stuck in traffic for an hour and begun hyperventilating because you are certain the hot, clammy steel cage with you and fifteen other people in it will become the source of your demise? No? Well, I have.
The American culture is known for being a culture that has issues with waiting. Some of you may even be familiar with the nickname we have as the microwave culture. Whatever we want, we want it fast and we want it now. If we don't get it when we want it, we'll find something else to suit our needs. In response, the framework of our society has adapted to this perspective. Pizza joints, mail services, and internet providers vie to have the fastest product. When everyone around you is catering to your "I need it now" demand, it's very easy to become complacent in a lifestyle that is counter-cultural to the way of the kingdom.
We know that patience is a virtue and that anyone who houses the Spirit of God should demonstrate its fruit, but what does that actually mean?
Patience is the endurance of difficult or strenuous circumstances without complaint. It's waiting without letting people know how much you're being inconvenienced. That also counts the grumbling and complaining we do in our heads, by the way. I've fooled a lot of people into thinking that I'm patient because of my quietness, but God knows the unmentionable things I scream in my head. He knows that I'm impatient. Patience is more than something we're encouraged to have, it's a character trait that every Christian must demonstrate. It's an identifier to those around us that we come from a breed of people that can remain unperturbed even in the most dire situations.
Reinforcing the concept
Most people wouldn't call a wedding a dire situation, but you couldn't convince me otherwise when we had our African wedding. As much as I hate to admit it, the reason my face doesn't appear in many of the wedding pictures is because it was very rare for me to not have a look of utter frustration on my face in most of the pictures. No one had prepared me for a wedding where waiting is the order of the day. The ceremony was delayed two hours while we waited, fully clothed in wedding garb, for all of the wedding party and family members to arrive; once we arrived at the church, I had to stay hidden in a hot car while the wedding party took thirty minutes to proceed into the church. (I'm not exaggerating either. African processionals have been known to last for an hour or two. Lots and lots of dancing and baby steps.) I could go on and on about how the wedding tested my patience, but I don't want to sound ungrateful. Ray's family put together a beautiful cultural celebration, and I learned so much and had fun in those moments directly following a deep breath. Even so, the wedding was undoubtedly my biggest challenge of patience since I've been here. If it was a test for mastery, I failed miserably, which explains why I've had to go back into reinforcement mode all over again.
I could tell plenty of stories of how this culture has tested my patience, almost all of which other American missionaries I've spoken to here can identify with, but I think you get the point. Patience is not a virtue I possess, and the Lord will continue reinforcing this concept until I can claim otherwise.
Mastering the concept
At this point, there's not much I can say about achieving mastery in this area. One day I'll be able to share some sage advice I've gleaned from my time overseas, but as of now, that is not the case. I can share a bit of hope in the meantime though. Instead of asking God to help me be more patient, I've been asking Him to teach me to love. When people attend weddings here, they are willing to wait for hours upon hours because their love for the couple outweighs their desire to keep their makeup from melting off their face. I'm discovering that if I truly possess the kind of love Christ desires of me, patience will come a lot easier. I talk more about this concept in my "Jesus, Love Through Me" post on The Spark Mag, so I won't get into it here, but it's all a work in progress. The incredibly assuring factor in the slow progress I'm making is the fact that Christ will not stop teaching me until He has completed the good work that He began. One day I'll get there, I've just got to be patient as I wait for that day to arrive.