Although I have been working on being a more patient person for many years, I found myself driving yesterday. Except that impatience was at the wheel. I sighed not to make it through the intersection as I wanted. And then I laughed at myself sighing and uttered a short prayer of thanks for recognizing my strange expectations catching me up.
Human beings are adaptive beings. Put us into situations long enough and we adapt. When we’re used to a blink of an eye for a web page to load, everything else seems really slow. We might have to pay more attention to adjusting our expectations.
The former slaves are following Moses around the wilderness. Every day they eat the most wonderful of food – manna – a gift from heaven. Every day they are following Moses in freedom and seeking their new homes. They grow used to manna and grow to hate it. So the people do what people do. They complained.
Can you imagine complaining, “Potato chips again?! Chocolate truffles again?! When can we return to the stewed cabbage and chickpeas of our days in bondage?!” But that, of course, is precisely what we are prone to do when we adapt to a world where potato chips and chocolate truffles are always available and where chickpeas and cabbages are distant memories, rare tastes virtually unknown. Used to speed via the web, I’ve grown accustomed to it and surprised and impatient off the computer.
Back in the Book of Numbers, the people rebel with their impatience, again. The people are plagued by poisonous snakes which is a pretty apt metaphor for how impatience strikes us, enervates, poisons us against appreciating what is good and good enough. Having arrived out of bondage, the people danced and sang, lead by Miriam, singing dayenu, “it would have sufficed”. When something would have been sufficient, another way to say it is that it is good & good enough. When impatience bites us, we start thrashing around, feeling really ill, and nothing, really, is good or good enough.
Again, Moses has to chat with the Holy to try and find an answer and help the people adapt to their circumstances. What interrupts impatience? Often what interrupts impatience is something bright and shiny and unexpected – in this case a copper snake (and there’s a pun here, for the Hebrew for copper and for snake are very close.) It is a trick of attention, to counteract the poison of impatience, to return us to a sense of awe and wonder, to gratitude, to appreciating what is good and good enough.
Spiritual disciplines train us to attention, awe, wonder, and gratitude. When we feel the poison of impatience zipping through our hearts, we can counter it with turning toward the Holy. A simple prayer, a breath meditation, a recited Scriptural verse, a sacred song, a focal sacred image turns us back away from our immediate impatience and disgust and back toward reverence and gratitude.
What prayer, meditation, verse, song, or image can you carry with you and use when impatience bites? How shall you return to gratitude for what is good and good enough?