December 9, 2014

Finding Patience

The deep of night turned silently into the peaceful quiet of the morning. I laid awake for a long time before I forced myself from under the covers. It was warm and comfortable in my bed, and while I was wide awake, part of me didn't want to get up and start the day. It was nearly 5 when I rolled out of bed. Normally, on  my day off, I would sleep in until 8 or 9 am, but for some reason, I woke up on my own and my body refused to fall back to sleep. I did drag myself out of bed and down the hall to the bathroom. My boys were waiting patiently at my Mother's bedroom door (their daily ritual).

I returned from the bathroom with two cats in tow, obviously they thought I would "fill" in for Mom, but instead they saw me climb back into bed. I don't remember much of what happened next because somewhere between 5 and 8, I fell into a very deep sleep. I do remember that I dreamed a weird dream -- a dream where my Mom and my sister-in-law were having a phone conversation. The conversation was about my niece returning to graduate school to work on a PhD. I can remember hearing the conversation, and becoming angry over the fact that I wasn't asked my opinion on the matter. If anyone knows what is involved in applying for a PhD program, it is me. If anyone can give practical advice on how to complete the application, it is me. Yet, somehow, no one bothered to ask me for my input. I can remember yelling at my Mom and telling her how upset my niece will be when she is rejected because she didn't provide the "right" kind of information on her application and statement of intent.

I woke up for the second time when Ike, my very fat Siamese cat, jumped on my desk and began to chew on my papers. All I heard was the rustle of papers on my desk, and I knew, he was up there. I jumped out of bed, rushed to the desk, and shooed him out of the bedroom. As I wobbled back to the bed, I realized the time, and I thought for certain that I must have fallen deep into sleep at some point. I had one of those "hangover" feelings -- the one where you were awoken from a deep sleep -- and where your body/head seem like they were not attached. I was dizzy when I returned to the bed, but after a short time resting, I was finally able to get up and start my day.

What an odd story to start off my morning and what in the world does it have to do with being patient? I am not sure, but I thought I would share it nonetheless and perhaps through explication of my thoughts and feelings today, the tie-in will reveal itself.

I am struggling today. I am feeling that feeling of dread, of discontentment, of despair. I am not sure why, but I woke up feeling this way, feeling as if I had been "wrung through the ringer" so to speak. Yes, perhaps my night of weird dreams and my thoughts of impatience do have something in common. Let me explain.

Last night, as I drifted off to sleep, I prayed over my life, my situation, my semester. I have several people that I pray for regularly, well daily, and those people were first and foremost on my mind. I was talking with the Lord, in a conversational way, praying over these people, asking for certain things for them, trusting their care and welfare to Him and His will. I was thinking about their importance in my life, how much they matter to me, and how much I love them. I was talking with the Lord about their lives, their messes, and how they are seeking Him diligently, waiting patiently for the Lord to move in and through each specific circumstance. I was interceding on their behalf, asking for what I believed was His will in their lives, and praying with faith that the Lord would answer my prayers for them.

I normally do this, but sometimes I fall asleep before I finish. I wonder if this is why my mind was filled with impatience this morning, why I am struggling to wait for the Lord's deliverance?

Yes, I think this is part and parcel to my experience. In truth, I am feeling a bit snappy this morning. I snapped at my Mom, I snapped at the commentators on Fox News, and I snapped at myself (for being snappy). I feel off, odd, out of sorts today. I feel as though I am sitting outside the window of someone's life and I am looking in at them. I feel as though I am sitting here wishing my life were different, wishing that my circumstances were altered, and that the events of my life were like that of the person living inside that --> home (over there)! Yes, I feel like my life is going no where, and the world and everyone in it is moving forward, finding comfort, finding success, and finding peace.

Why do I feel this way today?

Partly I think it is because I am struggling to let go of certain things, certain people in my life. Partly I think it is because I am living in transition -- transition between here and there -- between today and tomorrow. Yes, my life is in flux, filled with change, and fueled by my submission to follow the Lord. I am in this weird lonely place where I feel as though nothing I do is good enough. I feel as though I have let myself down, my family down, my faith down. I have succumbed to the demands of working full-time and going to school full-time, and I am not functioning at my best. I am beset with fear, with doubt, and with feelings of inadequacy.

The Lord has promised good to me. He has promised me that He would remain faithful to me. I have seen His hand upon my life, but still I fail to trust Him, to rest in His sufficiency, to BELIEVE Him. I so struggle to believe, to be faithful, to be ready to do His work. I want to do it. I want to believe Him and His promises to me. I want to keep strong. Yet, I feel so completely inadequate, so unable to do whatever He has asked of me.

Psalm 37:7 - Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act.

I look up and I wait patiently for the Lord to act on my behalf. This is what the Psalmist says we are to do. Psalm 37 is one of my favorite Scriptures. I love verses 4-5 -- and I have taken these two verses as promises for my life. Yes, I am patiently waiting for the Lord to act. It is just that while I am waiting patiently, my life seems to be running at a dizzying pace, and I am feeling the pinch of being hard pressed between immovable objects (work and school). I am struggling to remain composed, to remain steady, and to remain obedient to His Word to me. I am struggling today with my feelings, my emotions, and my concerns over my progress at Regent. Will I do well in my courses this semester? Will I receive grades that are reflective of my experience (working full-time)? Will I be disappointed in my performance?

I feel as though I have not performed well. I am like an actor on stage who gave the opening performance of their life, under incredible strain and pressure, and who now sits in their dressing room waiting for the reviews to come in. I am waiting patiently for my review. Did I do well enough or did I fail miserably because of my overwhelming and hectic paced schedule this term?

Of course, I have no way of knowing until the grades are posted. I have no indicator for my progress. Both of my courses are not tallied through points so I have not really known throughout the semester where I stood grade-wise. I had some indicator early on, but then I noticed the points were not calculated properly, and when I emailed about it, I was told that final grades would be posted through the registrar and that I shouldn't pay attention to the points listed. My heart sank because my only indicator was now said to be nothing of value. I am left sitting here waiting, hoping my performance was good enough to earn the grade, to make the mark, to be acceptable to me and to the Lord.

Why do I struggle with acceptance, with performance, with achievement? Why must I always get "As?" Why must I always do my best, give my best, perform at my best? Why am I not satisfied with the status quo, with doing well, and with accepting "less than perfect?"

Col. 3:23 - Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.

Yes, I am driven to succeed. I am driven to achieve. I am driven to perform. I never realized just how "driven" I was until I returned to school back in 1990. Up until that time, I would have said that I was lazy, undisciplined, and unfocused. I had no ambition, no goals in life, no direction. I was married, and I was working in the high-tech industry (as an Contracts Administrator). I had a good job, I liked working for the company, and I felt valuable to them. However, I had this nagging feeling of inadequacy. I felt that I was uneducated. I was reminded of my lack of education almost daily by a guy who worked in our Software department. For whatever reason, this guy harassed me daily. He made snide comments about the way I spoke, the way I wrote, about everything that I did. He once told me that I needed to go back to high school and learn English because I was worthless in my role and in my job. The funny thing was that in my role as Contracts Administrator, I was receiving great accolades for my work ethic, my resolve, and my innovation. Yes, in less than 9 months on the job, I recovered nearly 6M in misplaced and uncollected revenue. I received the Employee of the Year award for my hard work and effort. Yet, regardless of my performance, there was this one guy who would not leave me alone. He harped at me, constantly abused me, and went out of his way to prove to me that I was an uneducated and worthless person.

When I returned to school to study Humanities, I did so with the desire to "prove" to this guy, this one guy, that I really wasn't as dumb as he thought I was. Of course, by the time I graduated with honors and I was being solicited for graduate school and fellowships, this guy had moved on to another company (and probably to terrorizing some other poor hapless victim of his incessant bullying). I never did get the chance to tell him "See! I showed you -- I am smarter than you are!"

Over the course of my adult years, this one instance has remained with me. In many ways, I have to thank this guy (John) because he gave me the hard shove to get moving forward, to step out in faith, and to put my work ethic, my innovation, and my efforts to the test by excelling in academics. His bullying tactics didn't cause me to crouch in fear, but rather they spurred me on to a rewarding career in higher education. Yes, John, would not be happy to know that I am now a college English Professor, and that I will be graduating shortly with my PhD. 

Still, I think back to this specific time and I realize that it was pivotal to creating within me the desire to excel, to achieve, and to prove to myself and to others that I am adequate, that I am OK, and that I am able to do all things through Christ who strengthens me!

I think the enemy knows when I begin to focus on my performance, this "need" to be approved rears its ugly head. My need to achieve, to be confirmed, and to be valued starts to cloud my judgment, my thinking, and my approach to everyday living. Yes, my need, my driving need to be accepted ends up stealing my joy, stealing my peace, and ultimately, stealing my rest. It is a mighty lie of the deceiver, and he attacks me when I am most vulnerable -- when I am having to patiently wait to the "reviews" to come in.

I stress over this one thing each and every semester. I can remember some of the older students at Regent making a big deal about not letting grades determine your outlook. After all, they said, no employer is going to look at your grades. Yes, yes, yes, I agree. However, for those of us who use grades as an indicator for success, for achievement, for satisfaction -- poor grades or less than satisfactory grades -- becomes the silent killer of confidence. My valuation in academics is bound up in my grades. If I do poorly, then I run the risk of believing that I am not that "good" and that my abilities are not up to the standard required at this level of study. 

So what must I do to overcome this problem? How can I resolve to no longer allow my grades to drive me to such a level of distraction? 

Personally, I do not think it is possible. People who are achievement-oriented like I am tend to be hardwired from birth. I did a little bit of research just now and there is actual theory to back up the fact that people are achievement-oriented and performance-oriented (Cognitive Theory). It is an interesting study, and isn't surprising that gifted children naturally fall into one or two of these types of personalities. I am a bit of both, which is odd, because research says you generally are one or the other. It is nice to know that I am "normal" and that my drive to succeed is hardwired within me. This makes me wonder why I am this way, and what factors were in play (genetics) that caused me to be born with this natural inclination to succeed?

I am interested keenly in why I am this way from a Christian standpoint. I mean, does God value achievement-oriented people? Does He find people like me annoying and difficult? Or does God use people like me to do certain tasks, certain activities, certain things to honor and to praise His Name? I think there are examples of people in the Bible who were performance and achievement oriented individuals. Two that come to mind right off hand are David and Moses. Both individuals achieved great things, and both individuals were used mightily by God for His work in the nation of Israel. Sure, some might say that Moses was hiding out in the wilderness for 40 years, but that was simply because he had run away from Egypt for the crime he had committed (lets call it a character flaw). Prior to his leaving Egypt, he was a Prince in the house of Pharaoh. You cannot get much higher than that nor can you achieve a better stature unless you intended to dethrone your step-father.

Therefore, I have to believe that while I struggle with this need to achieve, God is able to use it for His success, for His glory, for His good. Of course, I must submit and surrender it to Him so that it doesn't become an object of worship -- but -- the Lord can and does use it to accomplish His will. I believe this is so, and while I may not like the way I feel while waiting for those dreaded "reviews," I know that this pattern, this habit, this annoying aspect of my personality will not go away, but will return yet again come April 2015 (end of semester).

All to Jesus I surrender;
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live. 
I surrender all,
I surrender all;
All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.
All to Jesus I surrender;
Humbly at His feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken;
Take me, Jesus, take me now.
All to Jesus I surrender;
Make me, Savior, wholly Thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
Truly know that Thou art mine.
All to Jesus I surrender;
Lord, I give myself to Thee;
Fill me with Thy love and power;
Let Thy blessing fall on me.
All to Jesus I surrender;
Now I feel the sacred flame.
Oh, the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to His Name!

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