Productivity from Patience

Note: This is the first of a two-part post on the value of abiding in patience in order to achieve the best kind of learning. The value is described here, whereas how to do it is contained in the second post here

Patience is not one of my virtues. And oftentimes, the world reinforces what seems to be the need for it not to be. Get it done and get it done fast so you can get more done is often the mantra whether we consciously or unconsciously preach this to ourselves or hear it from others.  And we are often rewarded for that “productivity”.

As Nathan Foster states in his book, The Making of an Ordinary Saint, when discussing the discipline of study, “I just couldn’t seem to escape the obsession with being productive.  I’m always trying to get more done quicker, and when I can’t clearly see my progress, I get irritated. Feeding my driven angst is my compliance to the sin of comparison and its subtle, destructive fruit, competition.” 

You nailed me, Nathan. And I see myself passing this on to my children. 

As I wait, somewhat impatiently, for the arrival of our third child, who we all thought would make a quick and early appearance, I’ve had a month of reminders about the value and grace that comes in the form of waiting. Or as Jen Wilkins describes in her book In His Image“Patience is not just the ability to wait, but to abide.” I have spent July trying to abide. 

Most of these reminders have come from abiding in reading daily with my son.  My husband and I have passed the “sin” of competitiveness onto him through both nature and nurture.  His need to get things done and get them done quickly encompasses just about every behavior in his life.  Everything is a competition. And when he can’t “win” he gets frustrated and reacts in ways that try everyone’s patience, including his own.  And his frustration spills into a lack of confidence in reading that spills into other areas with a lack of confidence. 

His challenges with reading are magnified through epilepsy that impacts the language center of his brain.  Nature gives him a double whammy where “abiding” in the process of reading, and many other things for that matter, are just plain hard.  

So we fight our urges, both his and mine, by reminding ourselves before we start reading each morning that 1) we are going to take our time and that 2) we are not going to get frustrated.  

Sometimes it works, but sometimes it doesn’t.  But as Foster says in his book about journeying from frustration to joy, “Yet grace understands my humanness. Grace gives me space to keep going, appreciate the process, and accept what I lack.” 

And giving ourselves and others grace often leads to meaningful learning.  As Foster says, learning is a process in which the divine is acutely evident: “It was so easy to bring God into learning. I felt his delight in showing me how things work. His love for creativity was immensely evident.” 

By taking time off to do what I thought was have a baby, I’ve gotten the opportunity to abide in a routine of daily morning reading that has lasted almost of a month out on our back porch with my children.  It has been a blessing and process which has revealed how valuable patiently abiding in practice at a pace that is unrushed and uncompetitive leads to results that often doesn’t actually come from actively focusing on being “productive”. 

My son’s reading has improved over the summer, and we are still working on abiding in the process of learning in a way that doesn’t lead to frustration.  It is something we will always be working on: learning in the traditional sense and in the sense that abiding in learning makes us more self-aware and better human beings. It makes us the best kind of learners, lifelong ones.

As Wilkin’s says, “We may overlook the possibility that the waiting itself could be the good and perfect gift, delivered right to our doorstep.”*

Where do you need to abide in order to learn through patiently waiting today?


*My good and perfect gift came in the form of time with our two children before the good and perfect gift of their baby brother arrived the day after I wrote the blog post.  We joyfully welcomed Graham Samuel Ward into our family on August 7, 2019. 

Mary Ila Ward

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