Of the many qualities necessary to be a stay at home parent, patience would have to top the list. There are obvious teaching points that require patience, like potty training, using glue and self-feeding (not necessarily in that order) that would drive an impatient person to a complete breakdown. But then there are the other things that make even a normally patient person like me want to climb to the top of the highest cliff and…(gulp)… look over the edge a few minutes, and then creep back down to safety while realizing that things aren’t always as bad as they seem.
One of these things has to be the persistence of a child when they get it in their head that they want something. Whether it is something small, like a cookie, or something significantly larger, like a cell phone, children can easily become fixated on the one thing that they want, and nothing will stand in their way. They will ask, then whine, beg, bargain, plead and cry. They refuse to accept answers such as “No,” “Later,” “That’s inappropriate,” “Absolutely not,” or “Put that down.” They won’t accept reason, logic or threat of punishment. They just persist.
As the parent, sometimes my answer is “No” because what the child is asking for is not good for them. Ice cream would be a big hit at the breakfast table if I’d allow it (and if we hadn’t eaten it all for dinner the night before). My kids would eat cookies and candy all afternoon, but I say no because it will hurt them in the long run. I know that, but they don’t get it yet. However, sometimes the answer is “No” because I know they don’t really want what they are asking for. My kids start asking for Christmas gifts late in the summer. After birthdays have passed, they see something they want or that their friends have and they start asking for it now. Sometimes I say no because I know that they are asking out of shallow desire to have everything they see. It isn’t that what they want is wrong or even bad for them. They just don’t really want it.
This is one of the many lessons I learned from my dad. This and the “If I can’t trust you” speech. Anyway, rather than simply saying “No” to me, he would encourage me to wait – whether so I could save money or see if it went on sale, etc. He knew that if I could avoid the initial impulse of getting something just because I wanted it, the impulse would go away and I wouldn’t want it anymore. This has saved me more than a few times in my adult life as I have waited to make a decision, knowing that if, after the initial feeling went away and I still wanted something, it was a good idea. Unfortunately, I haven’t always followed this principle, and have made impulse decisions that I have regretted (yes, cat, I’m talking about you).
As I look back on my life I see many times that I have asked God the Father for things because I wanted them. Sometimes I have asked fervently, but the answer was “No” because it wasn’t the right time or it wasn’t good for me. However, sometimes I think God was just letting me continue to ask because He knew that the thing I was praying for wasn’t what I really wanted. I was never a great journal-keeper, but I did have spurts when I wrote more than others. I recently found one and re-read it, and I found myself chuckling about the things I asked God for. Some things I wanted badly for a moment, but quickly began asking for something else. I wonder if God just didn’t answer because He knew that I was not really serious.
One of Jesus’ teachings that stumped me for a while is in Luke 18:1-8 – the parable of the persistent widow.
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’ ”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
This bothered me for a while because I thought that it was saying God is like the unjust judge. I finally figured out that it is saying that if the unjust judge will do the right thing because the widow was persistent, how much more will God, who is certainly just, do the right thing for His people who ask him. But this last time I read it I focused on the persistence part. The purpose of this parable, as Jesus told it, was to teach the disciples to keep praying and not give up. He wants us to be persistent. He wants me to ask, then beg, plead, cry and continue on until I get an answer. He doesn’t want me to ask once and then give up. If I do that, did I really want it in the first place?
I have to admit that I am too often guilty of asking once or twice and quitting, and by “too often” I mean “always.” I hear a sermon on Sunday about giving, so I ask God to help me become less selfish, and at the time I really mean it. But that is the last time I ask, and I could easily look back and say “God didn’t do that for me.” However, if I really wanted to be less selfish, wouldn’t I ask over and over until God gives that to me. As it is, the Godly traits and characteristics I hear about on Sundays are like toys in the Sears catalog that I see and want, but not enough to give up other things for.
(Excuse me while I tend to my sore toes, on which I have inadvertently stepped.)
Of course, I knew this already. I have read about the treasure that a man finds and sells everything to buy the field where it was found. I know about the pearl that a merchant found and sold all his possessions so he could purchase it. What I don’t know is why I don’t ask for God’s presence in my life with the same urgency and persistence that these people did. How does one cultivate that kind of desire, of passion for what is good and right? How can you develop the ability to value God enough to truly seek Him with the single-mindedness displayed by this widow and the merchant and the treasure hunter?
I am afraid of the answers to these questions, primarily because I think they have the words “difficult” and “trial” and “suffering” in them somehow. The widow sought justice because of the great injustice that was done to her. Throughout the Bible, and in my own experience, people draw closer to God and seek Him the most during times of difficulty and suffering. For example, read the book of Judges. Hardship results in greater pursuit of God, while times of peace typically end up in a gradual separation and some level of apathy about God. Of course, this usually causes hardship, which starts the cycle over again IF we choose to seek God to relieve our suffering.
So what is the end result of this rambling mess? I guess it is as simple/difficult as choosing to want the right things. I have said for some time now that as humans we will do what we want to do, so the key is to want to do the right things. The level of persistence exhibited in our prayer life will be a good indicator of what we want and how badly we want it.