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The sweetness of spiritual deepening

From the April 2013 issue of The Christian Science Journal

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Patience: I haven’t always felt that it has been one of my strong points. I’ve wrestled to find it, exercise it, and not berate myself when I’m in the throes of expressing its opposite. Impatience often comes in the form of either subtle or overt anxiousness: the feeling of not being where I need to be either literally or figuratively, coupled with a willfulness to get there.

One day as I pondered the need for more patience, I took some moments to really think about it: Why was I in such a hurry? What was I afraid of? That’s when this idea struck me, an entirely new and much more accessible definition of the word: Patience is the exercise of present grace. Since then, my ongoing battle has taken a sweeter turn, as I remember that I need to pause, reflect, and draw on the presence of God’s current grace. 

When I came across this quote from American intellectual writer and social critic Paul Goodman, it resonated with me deeply: “Patience is drawing on underlying forces; it is powerfully positive, though to a natural view it looks like just sitting it out. How would I persist against positive eroding forces if I were not drawing on invisible forces? And patience has a positive tonic effect on others; because of the presence of the patient person, they revive and go on, as if he were the gyroscope of the ship providing a stable ground. But the patient person himself does not enjoy it.” 

Sometimes that’s what it feels like—that despite our victories, progress, healing, and transformative moments, the day-to-day weight of human life can creep up, weigh us down, and make the challenges of the world seem insurmountable. 

On a day when I felt worn down and dispirited, as if I were dealing with a particular challenge for the umpteenth time, I came across this statement in Mary Baker Eddy’s Retrospection and Introspection: “A realization of the shifting scenes of human happiness, and of the frailty of mortal anticipations,—such as first led me to the feet of Christian Science,—seems to be requisite at every stage of advancement. Though our first lessons are changed, modified, broadened, yet their core is constantly renewed; as the law of the chord remains unchanged, whether we are dealing with a simple Latour exercise or with the vast Wagner Trilogy” (pp. 81–82).

It gave me a whole new perspective on my situation. My question had been, “Why am I dealing with this issue again?” Now I could see that it wasn’t a case of repeating anything. Rather, it was a practice of drawing on the deeper, underlying spiritual understanding of the situation. It was not even about a problem; it was about the solution being seen, understood, and lived in new, evolving, and ever unfolding ways. 

I realized that every challenge we face is a smokescreen that would divert our focus from what’s really going on: spiritual development, possibility, promise, and opportunity. So when we face trouble, it’s not a time to be discouraged. Rather, it’s a time to gather up all our well-worn spiritual glimpses, lessons, resources, flex our spiritual muscles, stretch out our wings, and get ready to run, walk, grow, deepen, and soar.

Patience is the exercise of present grace.

Still, day-to-day life requires patience and vision; an eye on what truly matters; a conviction of what’s true. Even then, sometimes we find ourselves awash at sea, floundering in our faith, struggling to forgive ourselves, and pleading for God to give us a sign. In these times, I’ve found there’s much to be learned from the lives of the disciples.

I can only imagine what it must have been like for Peter and his brother Andrew. They were out fishing. Jesus came by and told them to follow him. They dropped their nets immediately and followed (see Matthew 4:18–20). 

What about the days that led up to that moment? How many long hours spent on their boat had they possibly pondered some deeper meaning in life, felt an inner calling, watched a quiet seed of spiritual purpose taking root? Perhaps it felt like an elusive presence, something just beyond the reach of present hope or tangible expectation. 

When Jesus arrived, perhaps it all became clear and they recognized a link between this man they’d never seen before and all those inner stirrings, divine promptings, and prophecy. There was no conversation or argument to be had. The internal groundwork had been laid; they had to follow.

It must have been an exhilarating moment, maybe even a bit scary. In the Bible, there’s no mention of them going back to tidy things up at home. They had been called, chosen, and their hearts responded with ready willingness.

How could they have known what lay ahead, and what would be asked of them? We get just a glimpse into the lives and lessons of these men. But one thing becomes clear: A spiritual, Christian life is not an overnight phenomenon. It is the sum of thoughts and moments, rooted in and proceeding from the “soil of an honest and good heart” (Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 272).

We see instances of brilliance and spiritual power juxtaposed with doubt, despair, fear, and trepidation as the disciples grappled to understand and live the significance and practicality of the teachings of their Master. Their victories as well as failures became foundational lessons that equipped them for the long haul. Every step of the way, it was the Christ that called to them and lifted them out of the depths, wakened them, warned them, nurtured them, encouraged them, propelling them to recognize God’s power in the face of the worst that human experience could offer.

We can find great reserves of patience and perseverance in learning from their lives. It gives us reason to be patient with ourselves—the courage to stick with it, to look for and draw on present grace—to feel God’s nurturing, transforming, redeeming presence, wherever we are. Eddy’s words capture the spirit perfectly: “To preserve a long course of years still and uniform, amid the uniform darkness of storm and cloud and tempest, requires strength from above,—deep draughts from the fount of divine Love” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p ix). 

To understand that we are not alone, never going it alone, makes all the difference.

Joni Overton-Jung is a practitioner and teacher of Christian Science. She lives in Port Hope, Ontario, Canada.

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