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Faithing & Patience

Think of it as pure joy, my sisters and brothers, whenever you face trials of any sort. You understand that your faith is put to the test only to make you patient, but patience too has its practical results – it’s to make you fully mature and lacking in nothing.   ~ James 1:2-4 (The Inclusive Bible)

Last week we began a series which I had originally decided would be on “Faith,” however, it quickly turned into “Faithing.” As we talked about last week, the Greek word, pistis, often translated as faith, actually refers to a way of living, not a possession and might be better translated as "faithing." Faithing has nothing to do with beliefs or doctrine or worship. Faithing is about walking through life with a positive, trusting, compassionate, generous outlook. It is having a wakeful expectation of God, an awareness that we don’t walk alone and so we listen for whispers of advice, we feel for our intuition to speak to us, we pay attention to nudges. This is faithing.

In our reading for this morning, James talks about how facing trials tests faith.  First, let me clarify that I do not believe James is suggesting that God “tests” us. I think he is simply stating the fact that life happens, in all of its complexities. And, yes, the challenges that life throws at us can push us to the limits of our faithing ability, of walking through life with a calm ease that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,” as Julian of Norwich said. But, James says, even though our faithing may be challenged by life, when we continue faithing well, trusting in the divine presence, erring on the side of compassion and grace, trusting the process of life, we become more patient. And, patience leads to becoming “fully mature (the NRSV adds “and complete” which I like) and lacking in nothing.”

I believe faithing leads to patience because faithing involves letting go of control, trusting ourselves and the presence of God in the midst of all things. When we're in this place, it is easier to find acceptance, to not be in a rush, to not try and push our own agenda, to listen and be present to the reality of a situation. Patience then leads to beoming "fully mature and complete, lacking in nothing," because we have achieved a state of self-realization, where we are consciously connected to the divine presence within and around us and we know we have the inner resources to face whatever we need to face.

You’ve all heard of helicopter parents, well, there is a new term out there: snowplow parents. These are the parents who want to clear all the obstacles out of their children’s way, to make life easy for them. But how does one become fully mature and complete, if one never struggles and comes out the other side learning how to cope with challenges? How do we develop confidence in ourselves? How do we learn about faithing? How do we find our inner resources?

A friend of mine was talking to me recently about a pattern she’s noticed in her life. Something seemingly “bad” will happen due to a decision she’s made, something someone else has done, or a difficult situation, but she has realized that if she simply waits long enough, she’ll find that, in her words, “something miraculous” will eventually happen. Sometimes, she said, it may take days, months or even years, but she has now learned to have a wakeful expectation that God is working in the midst of even the most difficult of times to help her learn and grow from that experience. She’s learned to relax into the path that experience has put her on and to trust that eventually all will be well… and maybe even better than well. She practices faithing and patience, aligning herself with a vision that includes God working in the reality of each moment.

Still, it is hard. As Holly Whitcomb has said, it’s in our nature to be impatient. "We should like to skip the intermediate stages; we are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability… and that it may take a very long time.” She emphasizes that we need to have patience and “trust the slow process of God.”

I think fear is one of the biggest things that keeps us from faithing, which keeps us from being patient. I know in the most difficult times of my life, my brain has sometimes been like a runaway freight train, rambling on at top speed about all of the awful things that could happen.

Sharon Salzberg tells a story of a time when she’d been experiencing a series of “unfortunate events.” At the time, she was teaching in a rural area and would go out for a walk each morning at dawn. Her walk took her past a mobile home with a huge dog named Max who, she said, looked like a cross between a Doberman and a mountain lion. She started hearing reports that Max was becoming aggressive, snarling at people and threatening to attack them. While she’d never actually experienced this, she began to imagine that her next “unfortunate event” might be to be torn limb from limb by Max.

Every day she would begin her walk with a sense of fear about walking by Max. Even though he hadn’t been outside for many days, her anxiety and fear increased, and he became her first thought upon waking.

Inevitably, one morning, there was Max, sitting outside the mobile home. With each step closer, her fear increased – “he’s out there, he’s big, he’s getting up.” When she finally got there she stopped and they looked at each other. Then she blurted out the first thing that came to mind: “Max, Maxine is my middle name. People used to call me Max, too, you know!” They looked at each other for a little bit, then he sat back down and she walked on.

This story sounds like a perfect example of how we let our fears undermine our ability for faithing. We ruminate on things until we’ve blown them out of proportion (this is especially true for me in the middle of the night). Faithing asks us to deal with the reality of the situation, not our fears or anxieties, and to watch with patient, wakeful expectation for the divine’s presence. Faithing requires taking a deep breath and trusting the slow process of God.

Trust me, I need to do this myself, take a deep breath, lean into and trust in the slow process of God. I'm also pretty sure that if we practice this on easy days, it will come more naturally when the days are tougher.

Love & Light!