Sunday, March 9, 2014

Patience and Grace

Today I am procrastinating.


Partly because Spring Break started for me this week. Partly because I have a weird chest cold, and sitting at home browsing my computer, or reading a book, or knitting, is about the best thing I can do for it (that, and plenty of tea of course!). 

Yet there is one more reason: I am procrastinating because I am between projects. 

Last night I finished a short story I've been working on lately. My literary paper, on the mystic Julian of Norwich and C.S. Lewis, is between revisions and waiting for a friend's feedback. 

The only current projects I have are those I have not yet started: a planned interview with evangelical singles, a planned series on books evangelicals ought to read, a planned series on women of faith. I have the ideas, and I like to think they're good ideas, but I don't want to actually start the project. 

There are two reasons, I think, why I don't want to start these projects. 

First, to start a new project is to court failure. Just because I sit down and make a list of books I think Christians should read doesn't mean I'll ever get around to writing a blog post on it. Even if the blog post is written, there's no guarantee that anyone will read it. It's awfully tempting to simply not start, and never fail. 

Second, the first part of any project is often the hardest and most discouraging. Planning, developing, reworking ideas - all these things take lots of time. If I decide to write a new story, I can't simply sit down and start writing. I spend hours thinking through the story, changing my mind about the characters, writing and rewriting the beginning. If I start a series of blog posts on women of faith, I pour hours into choosing women, and more hours into researching women, long before I actually hit "Publish" on the blog. Planning is hard work, but planning means I have almost nothing to actually show for my progress. 

In other words, starting a new project means I have to have lots of patience. Like a gardener, I need to be willing to sow the seeds, then wait without growing weary for the fruit. 

I do not have much patience. Yet good writing demands patience. Life demands patience, the willingness to wait and work for good things. 

This semester in literature, I am privileged to teach bright, insightful students. Yet I notice they seem frustrated sometimes when they don't understand the poem on the first read, when they come to class still not understanding the poem. I tell them, That's not the way it works. I tell them, It takes time, and a lot of work, to understand literature, I tell them. It's okay to come to class not knowing what the poem means. 

I'm not always sure they believe me. My students are not in the wrong here, simply caught up in the lie that society tells us: real success happens instantly, not gradually. If something is good, it will simply "click". That's not true, but we believe it anyway.

By no means are my students the only ones who fall victim to this lie. I do too, as the fact that I am procrastinating on my writing projects indicates. Teachers and leaders do too. A friend of mine recently told me that years ago when she was in college, only one of her teachers really seemed to have faith that she'd accomplish much in life. She showed up at her conservative college with short, spiky hair. She never fit in with the cool kids. No one knew what to make of her. Certainly no one predicted that she'd be where she is today: a leader in a flourishing urban ministry overseas. 

As a teacher, her story is a challenge to me: I must remember that there are no "bad" students, no students incapable of learning or success. Every single student I teach is simply developing, and if I have patience, I may see her make progress, beautifully. The grace of God is slow, but certain.  

More broadly, I am reassured that patience is the key to life. It is oh-so-easy to get frustrated or discouraged when life doesn't look the way we want it to. When our plans fall through, when family members give us hell or sleepless nights, when we goof up big time again, we think we've failed, that life is a shambles. 

Not true. With time, and patience, and grace, all we find so frustrating now we will find transformed. 

Sin is behovely, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.*

*Behovely: Necessary. This quotation comes from Lady Julian of Norwich, a mystic Christian writing in 1300s England.

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