The Order Of Love

Love is patient.

Is there a reason why patience is the first qualifier in the biblical “love chapter” describing the characteristics of love? I wonder. Only because I am a mother who is long on love and, too often, short on patience. I mean, why not first, “Love is gentle,” or “Love is tender?” Or, better yet (to my feeble mind), “Love is a flash of divine revelation, a supernatural infusing of the spirit of God.” It is all that, yes. But first, of utmost importance, (I’ll trust the order of the inspired Word) love is patient. Nitty gritty.

And hard.

That is what I am thinking as we pour pancake batter into the griddle on a Saturday morning. Milky, buttery circles loop about the pan in interconnected rings, misshapen hearts that sizzle and pop. A toddler looms dangerously close to heat. A preschooler anxiously slops more. A lanky one flips prematurely, batter oozing, dripping. Sensitive child bursts into tears that the hearts are all smeared, the rings mashed. Oldest, with egg poised to crack, asks if I want more? More? More of this careening ride? I sense a loudness, akin to a pleading howl, surging close to my lips.

The Spirit soothes, strokes the frayed edges: “Love is patient.”

Love is patient. How can I be patient in the tipsiness of this domestic chaos? How can I be patient in the pain of now? When vocal cords pitch screams, when tears brim and fall, when the clock keeps ticking steadily ahead and we just keep sputtering, stumbling along? I want to strive ahead of here, into the future where we all stick to the script of buffed perfection.

Deep breathe. Love is patient. And it strikes me, an epiphany over the fry of bubbling pancakes, “Love can only be patient when it is first grateful for what is right now.”

It is true: I can love only when I am thankful for the now. When I embrace the present as a gift, a time and place not to be afraid of, to resist and fight, but a place to accept, to welcome and receive as a bestowment from a kind Father.  Love cannot be patient when I am discontented, when I am trying to micromanage. I fail to love when my fears (of failure, of bedlam, of tardy, tangled, turmoil) drives me to control, to strangle every moment with my demands. When my obsession with control chokes out gratitude, patience lies limp and  love dies. Patience can only grow in the soil of gratitude. Lack gratitude, then lack patience, and, ultimately, lack love.

Henri Nouwen suggests that  “[t]he word patience means willingness to stay where we are and live out the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.” Patience is only a possibility when we mindfully invite this moment to rest here, and not hurry on. And we can, because we know that this moment brings us something, something yet hidden that will reveal itself as a gift for which we can give thanks.  Nouwen offers that “patient people dare to stay where they are. Patient living means to live actively in the present….” I reflect on and concur: Patient pilgrims linger in the present, thankful for what is. Where thankfulness flourishes, patience blossoms, and one reaps love, abundantly.

And when I am not patient?  My failure to love is first a failure to be grateful. My sharpness springs from my lack of appreciation for who they are now, my impatience for them to grow into someone different. The more afraid I am, the more controlling I am, the more dissatisfied I am,  the harder it becomes to be patient, to be loving. Patient people dare to accept people where they are, grateful for who they are now, appreciative of works of art not yet finished but still deeply loved.

Deep breathe. Love is patient. And it can only be patient when it is first grateful, receiving the present as a present, grace.

How to be grateful when careening? Remember….

There are few emergencies

Then why that pitch to the parenting voice? Emergencies are wildfires, screeching sirens, and gaping wounds. In everyday life, we rarely experience emergencies.  Then why do we need to holler, fly, rush off? As Simone Weil writes,  “Waiting patiently…is the foundation of the spiritual life.” Yes, love is the foundation of the spiritual life, and it begins with grateful patience. And, when I think on it further, really, what catastrophe will befall if we slip into church 5 minutes late or dinner is on the table 15 minutes after six? Sure, it’s time to be in the car and junior can’t find his other shoe.  Or the soup needs seasoning and toddler wraps like vine up a parental leg. Take a deep breath. This really isn’t an emergency. Now is good. Now comes in a box to be unwrapped and, yes, even this, can be appreciated. Now is not an emergency to rip through, but a moment to embrace with gratitude.

There are all, only, gifts

When it all teeters off-kilter, if we wait patiently, long enough to peel back the droopy  (or is that weary?) eyes of our heart,  a hidden gift reveals itself. If we tilt too and see the world slant. This toddler leaning over the griddle? That curiosity endears, lights, impassions.  Here, let’s  lift you away from that heat and let you see these frying cakes. Sensitive child wailing? That tender heart is a unique gift. Why don’t we pour another batter heart again and mend yours too? Instead of pulling hair out, cock head to one side and pull the waiting gift out of this mayhem. Count His gifts: the way the light shaft pools on the floor at child’s feet, the curl of little one’s nose, the nape of growing child’s neck bent over books. When the gifts are patiently unearthed from the rubble, gratitude surfaces too. Love then stabilizes the chaos.

There are never fears

Fears grip tight, crushing my chest cavity. Alot is on the line in parenting. A soul. A young person’s future.  And, when I am ruthlessly honest, seemingly even my own reputation. Fear of failure prods, pierces, weighs.  Fear and gratitude mix like oil and water: incompatible. I cannot appreciate the gift of this moment, this child as he or she is now, when fears puncture. Trust births gratitude; fear stabs it. I can only accept this situation as a gift when I trust the benevolence of the Giver.  If I fear that the current scenario is actually to my detriment, harmful either currently or for my envisioned future, then I am anything but grateful, anything but patient, anything but loving. Most likely, when fears close in, I grow impatient, wanting to escape, or change, the present scene. True to the flight or fight theory of response, my fears too often feed  either anxious fleeing or angry fighting. I am waking to this in my own life:  The more afraid I am, the harder it becomes to express gratitude, the harder it becomes to practice patience. The harder it becomes to love.

Ultimately, fears and anxiety indicate a lack of trust in the goodness of the Giver of Good Gifts. And when I can’t give thanks for what He gives, I grow impatient, and am, sadly, incapable of love. If I am not grateful, and love in my life is sparse, it’s time to grope around in the dark and arrest the fears that lurk. I talk aloud to them, if necessary, naming the fears, disarming  their potency with Truth. Throw on the light, let the fears flee instead, and see that this God of love is entirely worthy of dogged, untiring trust—because He gives only good gifts.

The kids crush in and I grin. I think I get it, the order of love, the preeminence.

Love is patient first. Because it first is grateful.

©2008, Ann Voskamp

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