J. Marshall Jenkins

Author, Therapist, Spiritual Director

Learning Patience in the Little Things

OPENED 15Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).

Without managing time, I could not deliver posts like this to subscribers every Monday and Thursday morning at 7:00 a.m. I could not give my undivided attention to a full caseload of psychotherapy clients every week while managing a college counseling center. Neither could I make proper time for family responsibilities and precious time with my wife. No doubt I must remain attentive to my priorities and decisions as I plan ahead and respond moment-by-moment to interruptions, adjustments, and follow-through.

So I could not pursue my vocations as a husband, therapist, writer, or anything else without an adequate discipline of time management. But let me confess that nothing backs my spirit into a corner like my schedule and the additional pressures I impose: Perfectionistic self-expectations. Feeling like an imposter on the verge of exposure. That nagging sense that I am forgetting something. And indeed forgetting the most important thing: that I do not face my mounting challenges and responsibilities alone.

The perverse security I gain from this madness stands in the way of letting it go. When I feel the steel bands of stress tighten around my shoulders, neck, and face, when I point to a long to-do list and cluttered calendar, I can believe that I am doing my best. But such consolations brook no rest.

During Advent, Christians mark holy waiting for Christ. We too easily accommodate Advent to inner pressure not just to manage but to master time, so we create a Christmas season filled with shopping, holiday events, and social rituals. We postpone indefinitely the quiet and stillness needed to wait.

We never want to wait. We find alien the sweet anticipation of the psalmist’s refrain,

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,

and in his word I hope;

my soul waits for the Lord

more than those who watch

for the morning,

more than those who watch

for the morning” (Psalm 130:5-6).

How shall we cultivate this countercultural serenity?

Human error imposes so much waiting, and frustration triples when I commit the error that causes delay. Sometimes I exclaim under my breath, “My God, I just want to get on with life!” But the Spirit answers: This is life, this waiting for the store’s new hire trying to figure out how to work the cash register, this waiting for myself as I search for the important documents I misplaced.

Jesus said that without faithfulness in little things, I cannot be faithful in the great ones (Luke 16:10). Every exercise in patient and compassionate waiting prepares me for the most important, the coming of Christ. Only through seeing Christ in the person who slowed me down, even when that person is me, will I observe Advent rightly. May I embrace that challenge.

J. Marshall Jenkins

About J. Marshall Jenkins

J. Marshall Jenkins is an author, psychotherapist, teacher, and spiritual director. For several years he has been writing on the Beatitudes for people in emotional pain, publishing biweekly here on his Beatitudes Blog at http://www.jmarshalljenkins.com. His newest book, Blessed at the Broken Places: Reclaiming Faith and Hope with the Beatitudes, is now available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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4 Replies

  1. Michael Parnell

    To piggyback on what you wrote, Henri Nouwen penned these words:
    “Fearful people have a hard time waiting, because when we are afraid we want to get away from where we are. But if we cannot flee, we may fight instead. Many of our destructive acts come from the fear that something harmful will be done to us.”

    I am attempting to learn to be better at waiting. The words of Paul in Galatians 4 cheer me onward. Paul wrote, “when in the fullness of time.” That informs me that if I wait correctly and use that time to prepare for what God is doing, then when that time comes I will be blessed for having waited and not taking flight.

    1. J. Marshall Jenkins

      Thank you, Mike, for these worthy additions to the post. They offer valuable perspective as many of us report back to work on Monday morning after the holiday!

  2. Sally B.

    New motto: “Cultivate countercultural serenity…”

    1. J. Marshall Jenkins

      I hadn’t thought of that…Thanks!

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