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The Good Life 6, Patience +2

Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears. God, give me patience, Now! Patience, perseverance, and persistence, the three Ps, go hand in hand to promote a good and successful life, a well lived life.

We do not like to cool our heels, to wait. Time slows and the heart beats faster. Anxiety overcomes us and settles like a damp mist on our spirits. Patience is the ability to conceal impatience, to act as if there were all the time in the world to wait. It is a gift bestowed by a generous God who has limitless patience.

The prophet Elijah predicted the birth of Jesus 800 years before he was born. The people waited with patience. The disciples predicted the return of Jesus 2,000 years ago, and we wait. We wait 30 minutes in a doctor’s office, and our blood pressure zooms. That’s impatience. Patience is the ability to wait and the way we behave while we’re waiting. On her first day in kindergarten, daughter reported she learned how to “line up,” a lesson in waiting patiently and a useful tool in society.

If we are to be successful we must add perseverance and persistence to our patience. Perseverance is waiting with hope, and persistence is continuing to follow the path we are on until a successful conclusion has been reached. Much good that may have been done in the world has been lost through faltering, hesitation, wavering, vacillating or not sticking to it.

We get through the hardest times with the three Ps. Two grandsons loved the “Little Steam Engine That Could,”  I – think – I – can,  I – think – I – can, as it slowly chugged up the hill, but on the way down was a quick I thought I could, I thought I could. Great works are performed by patience, persistence and perseverance. ‘Tis a lesson you should heed. Try, try again. If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Your courage will appear when you persevere. You will conquer, never fear, if you try, try again.

Remember the tortoise and the hare? The hare should have won the race, but  it fell asleep, and the slow turtle won the race with patience, perseverance, and persistence. We must never under-estimate our ability.

All I know I learned from the garden. Knowing the slow growth of trees, I understand patience, and seeing the tenacity of grass, I know persistence. God expects us to be patient, to wait with dignity, and to develop an even-tempered heart. “He that controls his spirit is better than a warrior,” (Proverbs 16: 32) Seek patience.

 

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The Good Life 5, Self-Control

A child screamed! I turned to see, as did all the customers in the check-out line. We heard the mother say, “Katy, be quiet. Shhh– .” The child screamed louder, straining to reach a doll her mother was holding. This was a teachable moment, but mother was too embarrassed to teach and gave the doll to the child. Self control issues begin early.

We tend to be greedy and we want what we want now, not later. When we have none, we want some, and when we have some, we want more, and more, and still more. Nathaniel Hawthorne told the story from a Greek myth. Rich King Midas  loved his little daughter, but he loved gold. In his desire for more gold, he wished everything he touched would turn to gold. Alas! He got his wish, but he hugged his little daughter.

Self-control is difficult to acquire, for our sinful nature and bad habits are difficult to overcome, but it is a much needed virtue. An old verse reminds us: “John was a bad boy and beat a poor cat. Tom put a stone in a blind man’s hat. James was a boy who neglected his prayers. They all grew up ugly, and nobody cares.”

Today we hear about children who bully others and mean girls whose texting and twittering destroy the reputations and lives of others. Inconsiderate actions often have violent repercussions. Aesop wrote, “Oh foolish creatures that destroy – Themselves for transitory joy.

Socrates said that for a person to have a good life, he must master himself, and Aristotle believed we are merely the sum of our actions. King David learned the value of self-control the hard way. Although he had a harem full of wives and concubines, he wanted another man’s wife. The price he paid was the death of his son.

Longfellow wrote, “Go forth in life, oh Child of Earth. Be worthy of thy heavenly birth. For noble service thou art here; thy brothers help, thy God revere.” The spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak. Jesus reminded his disciples to watch and pray that they would not enter into temptation. (Matthew 36: 41) They fell asleep.

We must learn to say NO to temptation, to bad company, to idolatry, to gluttony, to gossip, to pride, to arrogance. Read the Bible and Pray. With God we can gather enough strength to control ourselves, and enjoy a well-lived life.

 

The Good Life 4, Joy

What makes you happy: good health, kindness, friends, beauty, money, a good book, winning an argument? Happy is not joy, for happiness has a short life. Joy is an attitude or the way life appears, seeing the glass half or more full, but ignoring or not seeing the empty part. Joy is the experience of hope and optimism.

The birthday party was a huge success. The guests had left, presents were piled in the living room, the cake a mass of crumbs, and three year old Kevin was not to be seen. His father found him crouched under a chair in the living room, crying. “Why are you crying?” his father asked. “Did you have fun?” The boy nodded. “Aren’t you happy?” continued father. The child smiled through his tears and said, “I’m so hoppy. I’m frilled.” Tears of joy are like summer raindrops, pierced by the sun. We are reminded not to cry when the party’s over, but to smile because it happened.

Joy is to discover life is thrilling. The Psalmist David knew joy because he knew the Lord. “The Lord is my strength and shield. My heart trusts him and I am helped.”(Psalm 28: 7) The psalm contains David’s attitude of gratitude. With that joy in our hearts, we endure all circumstances, and joy is kept alive even in darkest times. Our heavenly Father created us to have joy.

But there is night, the dark moments in life producing fear and worry. Psalm 30 reminds us that there is “joy in the morning.” The phrase has been used for titles of popular songs, movies, a TV series, and books — Joy in the Morning, a novel by P.D. Wodehouse in 1945 and another novel by Betty Smith in 1963. These novels produce weeping, laughing, raging and exulting. They remind us that after the dark night, there is joy in the morning.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” In my garden is a small stone bearing the words of Keats, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” a reminder there is joy in the written word, in pictures, in music and song, and in the garden. Beauty lifts the heart toward heaven. There is joy!

Some find joy in everything they do – washing dishes, dusting, shopping. There is satisfaction, a joy in doing everything as well as we can. Emily Dickinson observed, “The mere sense of living is joy enough.” Joy is an attitude. Choose joy.

 

The Good Life 3, Peace

The American nation was founded in the search for peace. A revolution to provide peace? Surely I jest! In 1775 Patrick Henry addressed a Virginia convention, hoping to fund a militia. “Peace! Peace! There is no peace. The war is actually begun. The next gale that sweeps from the North will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms. I know not what course others may choose, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.” Inspired by these fiery words, Virginia armed the militia and went to war. Nations ignore the virtues of peace to secure the virtues of liberty, or to simply defend themselves. Peace is expensive.

Memorial Day, formerly Veterans Day, means remember the cost of peace. What is worth fighting for? Civil wars flare up as people within the same nation hold opposing ideas and can’t decide a solution. Was our Civil War fought to preserve the Union, preserve states’ rights, or free the slaves? Motives for war are not always clear, and the resentment of the loser is not cured by a treaty.

Some have already made the ultimate sacrifice. On Memorial Day cemeteries are dotted with flags and flowers. We remember the dead warriors. Our leaders are apt to say, “You and he must fight.” That’s an easier path than negotiating a peace.

We are easily offended and impulsive. The peace of God, which passes understanding, does not guide our actions. 700 years before Christ was born, Isaiah predicted a child would come who would be called the Prince of Peace. Jews and Gentile would be brought together in peace. His eyes had “seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Jesus urged us to reconcile with our brothers. “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” (Matthew 1: 9) Loving those with whom we disagree seems a hopeless task. Remember, Judas betrayed Jesus. Jesus may have been disappointed with Judas, but he did not try to dissuade him. Then Judas destroyed himself. This was not a coincidence.

The world needs to remember that the cost of war is evident in the cemetery. The Bible confirms that when we do not act in love, we disturb the peace. God bless us, everyone!

The Good Life 2, Love

Last Saturday lovely Megan Markle, American bi-racial actress once divorced, married Britain’s Prince Harry, 6th in line for the British monarchy, in a fabulous fairy tale wedding. My father would have said, “Impossible!” But my grandchildren say, “So what?”  History tells us Love does not always have its way.

On TV we watched the extravagant affair along with  millions of others. Queen Elizabeth II, Harry’s grandmother, attended the wedding. She became Queen of England because her Uncle Edward abdicated the throne to marry an American divorcee. He chose Love. The Queen accepted her duty.

Contrast Megan’s world to the world of her new mother-in-law, Camilla, second wife of next in the royal line Prince Phillip, to see the enormous change in a society in my lifetime. The young Prince Phillip loved Camilla, but he could not marry a divorced American and bring disgrace to the English nation. Like his mother, he chose duty.  In a splendid wedding ceremony, Prince Phillip married the young and beautiful Lady Diana. He is introverted and she was extroverted, and except for the two handsome boys they produced, they had little in common. The marriage had a crashing finale.

The Brits and the royal family survived the tragedy of the popular Diana’s death. Now it seems happy to support the love their son, Prince Harry, obviously has for the beautiful, divorced, bi-racial American actress. Wow! Perhaps Love stands a chance in a fallen world.

The Reverend Michael Curry, an Episcopal bishop from Chicago, echoed ! Corinthians 13: 1 – 10, “If I could speak all languages on Earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wrong. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful.”

Love is a choice as well as an emotion. We can’t be in love, love must be in us. Love is the choice to value and respect another. Love beginning with the physical sensation of wanting to be with another leads to the complicated relationship of marriage. We are wonderfully made, but for a marriage to endure the tribulations of life, Love must mature into the biblical definition. Love is not self-centered. It protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres.

Jesus added, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your mind, your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12: 22) Love does not mean rejecting duty. Perhaps the British showed the world they have chosen Love.

 

The Good Life 1, Know Thyself

In his Essay on Man (1734), Alexander Pope wrote: Know thyself. Presume not God to scan. The proper study of mankind is man. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy reading biography, memoir, the Bible, and even novels. My friend in writing class published her memoir, Struck by Joy, available on Amazon, No life is all joy – but we treasure the moments, and we bring them out of memory like treasured gifts in times of sorrow. I congratulate my friend for her honest work.

What is the best way of being a person? Examining your own life is not an easy task. We tend to blame others when life does not work out the way we expected it to. Passing blame is easy – revealing ourselves is hard. From where do we get the cornerstone of our souls?

Thomas Wolfe died this week. He was gifted with a plethora of words, of sounds, of meaning, and he invented his persona – a southern gentleman who glimpsed the trials of a constantly changing society and explained what he saw. I don’t believe he did any harm, and perhaps some good in his meaningful life.

Jesus, Mohammed, and Budda are well known examples of well-lived lives. Each founded a system of beliefs, a religion, practiced by most of us in varying degrees at varying times. They each pointed to a direction in a well lived life: but life is complicated and the directions are subject to interpretation. Acting as men with heavenly connections, they left their wisdom to posterity. Learning about ourselves seals our relationship with the God we only sense.

Virtues are the undeniable characteristics of a “good life.” Knowing them and absorbing them take effort. “A little learning is a dangerous thing,” says Pope in his Essay on Criticism, 1709. We tend to avoid the labor of shoveling too deeply, and we become stuck in our paradigms. Socrates believed “the unexamined life is not worth living,” but do we want to make the effort to examine our beliefs?

Solomon explains that wisdom is better than rubies (Proverbs 8: 11) and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 9: 10) Moses wrote God’s Ten Commandments on stone, and Jesus whittled them down to one. LOVE, and you will enjoy a good life.

But how did that work out?

Just A Minute, 5

Socrates means well, but all life is worth living, even the unexamined life. An epitaph on a neglected gravestone reads, “Here Lies An Athiest, all dressed up and no place to go.” A sorry state, indeed. Perhaps he should have taken the time to consider where his life was going. Life is the result of the choices we make at the crossroads of circumstances. All roads lead somewhere, but eventually end in a destination.

What circumstances did we use well, and how did we misuse others? How did our choices influence the circumstances they brought about? Do we take the time to think – to reflect and meditate? Life is so busy, and busyness occupies our time. Our maker sometimes seems far away, and what did He want from us anyway? Are we missing His Expectations?

Consider Pip, Charles Dickens’ unfinished character. Perhaps he married Estella, and had several beautiful children, or not. Dickens apparently could not decide, so his readers insisted on a happy ending. But Scrooge’s life is full of surprises that end well, and Tiny Tim is saved. Charles Dickens seemed to know how unpredictable life is, and how difficult to predict its end.

Life should be filled with joy and love. The rest is tragedy. We persist in gathering what is unattainable, and our lives are then filled with sorrow and remiss. Our lives are linked to others in a complicated knitting. We were born helpless and independent, and we will return to our maker in the same condition.

We are regrettably slow learners. We forget or never learn our history: Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, Paul and others who have given us insight into a Loving and Forgiving God. The magazine GQ cites the Bible number 12 in its article, “25 books you don’t need to read,” I am told by a reliable source since GQ is not on my reading list.

Upon our demise we will be greeted by our Friend who wants only that we live well, taking his advice to love – God, our Neighbors, and Ourselves… to love all that is unknowable. Is Love the basis of all the virtues?

Consider the 10 Commandments, handed to Moses by God on Mt. Sinai,The Book of Virtues, (William J. Bennett, Simon and Schuster, 1993), and 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior hand-copied and kept by George Washington a schoolboy in Fredericksburg, Virginia and later found at Mount Vernon in Amor Towle’s novel Rules of Civility, (Penguin Books, 2011).  Surely these contain enough information to guarantee a well lived life.

We seek life’s meaning. Like Socrates and Solomon, we covet wisdom. It’s important.