Sunday, October 10, 2010

Swimming, Praying, & Patience

PATIENCE
My parents signed me up for the swim team when I was eight years old. My dad told me that swim team would teach me endurance. As I grew older, I excelled in the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle events. In other words, I was a sprinter. This may tell you a little bit about my personality: I don’t mind things that are challenging, but I like to get them done and out of the way quickly. Or, in the words of President Uchtdorf, I “don’t like to wait.”
When I told my husband that I was asked to speak on patience today, he smiled and said, “How fitting.” But, then, with a worried look, he quickly added: “Because you are married to the most impatient person in the world.” Unfortunately, he had realized too quickly that anything he said could possibly become “quotable material” for this talk. 
But, in all honesty, my husband was right, I am not a very patient person. In fact, I feel very humbled and unworthy to even attempt to share my thoughts with each of you on President Uchtdorf’s conference talk titled: ‘Continuing In Patience.’  However, as often happens, I feel this topic was divinely assigned to me at a time in my life when I most needed its counsel. President Uchtdorf taught, “Patience is a purifying process that refines understanding, deepens happiness, focuses action, and offers hope for peace.”
As a sophomore on the swim team, I competed in the longest race of my life. A new swim coach put me in a new event to see how I would do: the 500-yard freestyle. I was accustomed to swimming two or four lengths of the swimming pool, but the 500-yard freestyle is 20 lengths of the pool. I was a little nervous as I stood up on the diving block, but self-confident and na├»ve enough. The gun went off and I dove in, already kicking. I swam and swam, and within only a few seconds, I noticed that I was way ahead of everyone around me. I was already a bit cocky, but beamed inside as I continued swimming hard. Of course, I, the impatient sprinter, was swimming much faster than everyone else. The other swimmers were familiar with the importance of finding a slower pace that they could hold firmly for the length of the race. I was not. 
After swimming only five lengths of the pool, I knew that I was in trouble. I still had 15 lengths of the pool left to swim. I had started out swimming too fast and had used up too much of my energy. At this point, I actually began to feel scared, but I kept on swimming. President Uchtdorf taught, “Patience is not passive resignation, nor is it failing to act because of our fears.” I continued to stroke my arms, though my energy was spent. 
It was incredibly difficult. Each stroke, each breath, completing each length of the pool seemed to take forever. President Uchtdorf taught, “Patience require(s) actively working toward worthwhile goals and not getting discouraged when results d(o)n’t appear instantly or without effort.” At the time, I knew that I needed to focus my strength and swim harder than I ever had - in order to finish the race. I knew the race would last about 20 minutes more, and without patience and “steady and consistent work” and actively engaging myself toward my goal, I would not be able to finish the race. President Uchtdorf taught, “Patience is not simply enduring; it is enduring well!” I began to re-focus my efforts in order to use my energy more efficiently and wisely. Having patience allowed me to focus my strength, my strokes, and my actions. I thought this would be enough to get me to the end of the race, but it wasn’t.
Quickly, my body became almost completely exhausted. My muscles ached and my legs and arms felt weak. But, more than anything else, I desperately needed more air. The pain in my lungs was excruciating. I gasped and gulped with each turn of my head, desperate for more oxygen. I thought: people must see my struggling, why don’t they do something? But I knew that it was only me that could decide whether or not I would finish the race; no one was forcing me to finish. President Uchtdorf taught, “Patience means accepting that which cannot be changed and facing it with courage, grace, and faith.” Often we cannot change the trials we are in, but we can control how we react to them. I must admit that I did not feel graceful as I swam, but I was not willing to give up. 
The feeling of absolute despair hit me after only 10 lengths of the pool. I could see people when I turned my head to the side for air, but I felt totally alone. I wondered if I would drown, with all the people around me, watching. I knew people were cheering for me; but I knew they could not swim for me, or remove me from the situation that I was in. All I could do was continue swimming, and wait. President Uchtdorf said, “Patience means to abide in faith, knowing that sometimes it is in the waiting rather than in the receiving that we grow the most.” 
The desperation that filled my soul led me, or rather, drove me to prayer. I pled with Heavenly Father that He would not let me drown, that He would help me to finish the race. President Uchtdorf taught, “Knowledge and understanding come at the price of patience.” Because I do not wait “well,” when I am humbled through trials, I find that I lean closer to Heavenly Father when I am required to have patience, particularly when I cannot possibly imagine why things are not working out as I’ve planned. Of course, I really wanted Heavenly Father to remove me from the mess I was in, or at the least, to take away my pain and exhaustion; but, as President Uchtdorf taught, it is the process of patience that is important, and “Heavenly Father (always) ha(s) a purpose in requiring that His children wait.” However, patience alone cannot bring about the desirable and necessary results; we must also have faith. It was not enough for me to continue swimming and praying for help. I had to actually have faith that Heavenly Father would hear my prayer and answer it.
President Uchtdorf taught, “Patience…means delaying immediate gratification for future blessings.” I knew that I could stand up, or stop at one of the walls, and walk away from the race at any time. But, then I would not finish the race. I knew that my younger sister and cousin, also swimmers on the team, would be there, waiting for me, ready to pull me out and celebrate my finish. I didn’t want to give up; I couldn’t, despite the pain and desperation. President Uchtdorf taught, “in your patience you win mastery of your souls.” I knew I wanted to finish, and felt renewed strength as I prayed for help. And although the exhaustion in my muscles and the burning in my lungs persisted, my understanding had been refined; my body was able to continue swimming; I had witnessed an answer to my prayer, my faith had been strengthened, and I felt hope, rather than desperation. President Uchtdorf said, “the work of patience boils down to this: keep the commandments; trust in God, our Heavenly Father, serve Him with meekness and Christlike love; exercise faith and hope in the Savior; and never give up.” 
I did end up finishing the race that day, though not with first place as I had planned at the beginning. My happiness in finishing the race was as great as my relief, but it was deepened because of the process of learning patience that I had experienced. And truly, the finish of the race made the entire experience that much more worth it.  My sister and cousin were there at the wall, reaching for my hand. I remember my sister’s smile and her words: “Liz, you are amazing! You did it!” I gave her my hand, but had no strength to push myself up as she pulled. She quickly grabbed both of my hands within hers, and, with the help of my cousin, literally dragged me out of the pool. My sister hugged me and said, “I knew you could do it!” She then listened patiently as I described through my tears all that had happened during the race.
In preparation for this talk, I asked a few friends: “What tries your patience – the most?” The answers included things like: “kids whining,” “having to repeat myself”, “kids fighting”, “the bed time routine”, and “people who drive under the speed limit.“ President Uchtdorf taught that “persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and love…are the foundation of godly patience.” When I first read this quote and thought of my friends’ responses, I wondered if President Uchtdorf had forgotten how frustrating and difficult it is to have patience with children who are fighting, disobeying, and ignoring important requests. But, he also taught, “As the Lord is patient with us, let us be patient with those we serve. Understand that they, like us, are imperfect. They, like us, make mistakes. They, like us, want others to give them the benefit of the doubt.” Often it is most challenging to have patience with those that are closest to us, those we love the most. Patience truly does refine our understanding of the plan of salvation, the purpose of life, family, sacrifice, and love. 
Ironically, as a very impatient parent, I am constantly looking for opportunities to help my children learn to wait, and encourage them to be patient. A few days ago, my oldest son celebrated his birthday. He received some money and gift certificates to Target. He has been wanting one very large and expensive Lego set for a while, so I explained to him that if he waited, continued working, earning and saving more money, he would be able to afford to buy it. He was elated. But, then he insisted on going to Target - so that he could just “buy a little toy.” We further discussed his goal of the big Lego set, but he still wanted to just get something little right away. We went to the store and he spent time looking around. And then, he looked at me and said, “I think I’ll wait.” I was proud of him, but my happiness was nothing compared to the visible joy I could see in his eyes. I knew that he was feeling the happiness that stems from self-control and patience, the willingness to work for something that he really wants, and the choice to “delay immediate gratification for future blessings.”
In an attempt to have greater patience, I have found three activities that have helped me to do so: first, to be grateful; second, to trust in the Lord; and third, to pray and then to listen. 
During the past month, I have attempted to find a way to provide supplemental income for our family, without leaving the home. I have spent hours brainstorming and researching opportunities, praying and asking for guidance, but nothing has felt quite right, and nothing has worked out. This has been extremely frustrating for me. In my patriarchal blessing it states: “There will be times that you won’t understand why the answer that you’re expecting is not there, but all things will be for your good. You must have faith.” Initially, I worked hard at focusing my actions and trying to “fix the problem” myself. My frustrations became all-consuming until I realized that I was neglecting to recognize all of the blessings that we already had. I had narrowed my view to be able to see only what I needed, and was ignoring the huge wealth of all that we had. After I chose to be grateful, my ability to be patient during this trial greatly increased. 
Although I felt that I was exercising faith during this trial, it must have been merely a superficial faith because inside I felt only despair. It wasn’t until I put all of my trust in Heavenly Father and His purpose in having me wait, that my patience provided “hope for peace.” The problem had not been solved, nothing had changed, only my inner despair and frustration had been replaced with peace. I felt changed, and I was. President Eyring said about this life: “The Lord doesn’t put us through this test to give us a grade, he does it because the process will change us.” As I began to trust Heavenly Father, I was able to face my trial with grace and faith, and then my ability to wait patiently increased.
In addition to having gratitude and trusting Heavenly Father, I discovered that listening is an important aspect of learning patience. As a parent, if I explain something to my children when they have to wait, they are much more likely to be able to wait with patience. They are more able to trust me. I learned during this trial that I have to look for opportunities and allow time to listen to Heavenly Father “explain things” to me. I found that this happened during moments that I sought for experiences with my Savior, with His Spirit: most often while pondering after my prayers and during my personal scripture study. I immediately noticed that my ability to wait increased as these experiences did, almost exponentially. 
President Uchtdorf said, “The lessons we learn from patience will cultivate our character, lift our lives, and heighten our happiness.” I have felt inspired and strengthened from all I have learned this past month about the purpose of waiting, the process of learning patience, and things I can do to be more patient. In The Book of Mormon, the prophet historian Mormon recorded: “Nevertheless, the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith. Nevertheless--whosoever putteth his trust in him the same shall be lifted up at the last day.” (Mosiah 23:21-22) I know this is true. As I put my trust in Heavenly Father, in His love, His knowledge, His power, I can be lifted and able to endure my trials with patience, faith, understanding, love, hope, and even happiness.
I am grateful for the atonement of Jesus Christ. I feel as Alma did when he expressed: “Who can say too much of (Christ’s) great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel.” (Alma 26:16) 
I know that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ live. I know that They love us. I pray that we can all have patience with those around us, especially those that we love. I pray that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ will continue to have patience with me.  - Talk given in Church, October 10, 2010

3 comments:

sabrina said...

beautiful!

iamwoman said...

So powerful! Thanks so much for posting this. I needed to (hear) your talk;)

(Christensen) Fraser, Rachael said...

Awesome Liz! Such a great talk! I loved all your personal experiences. Oh the days of swim team. I can't even count how many lessons I learned because of it. I am so grateful for your influence and example in getting me involved with swimming. I think about those days all the time!