Jan Johnson
Jan Johnson

WisBits Archive

December 2010

Stability of Heart versus “Just Getting Through”

Sometimes we may wish we were somewhere else or doing something else. If my flight is delayed in an airport, I’ll often start walking through the terminal wielding my roller bag at top speed to walk off the irritation. Then I sit down and work on my laptop “just to get through” the delay. Or . . . I love writing or designing a class or a talk, but when my computer goes nuts, I desperately want to escape. I start thinking I’d rather clerk at 7-11 for a while. Or . . . in a dinner conversation in which I am excluded, I have to work hard to join in because I’d rather just check out. Or . . . my friend described how he watched me “shut down” last year in a stressful situation. I still did a good job leading up front but inside I was just getting through it until I could leave.

I’ve begun thinking about how contrary this is to the way of being described in Psalm 16:8: “I keep the Lord ever before me.” That’s how I want to live—with God as the biggest thing on the computer screen of my mind and life. I want always to be present to God and present to other people. I want to be so at peace with God that I’m expectant and alert for what good might happen in situations in which I now just want to escape.

I’m also running into the word endurance (hupomone) in Scripture these days. Jesus endured the cross, disregarding the shame. He didn’t just “get through it.” He considered the joy set before him—probably what he was accomplishing, his life with God. Hupomone, I discovered, is not just accepting things with bowed head and folded hands, but it’s a unhurried patience to master things. It’s about refusing to be defeated and living with determined patience. (See James 1:2-4: My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.) Being “mature and complete” means to be “fully functional,” not checked out and shut down. It means I’m available to say “yes” to God in that difficult-to-endure situation. I can say yes to love whomever is standing in front of me, yes to thank God for the blessings around me and yes to ask someone for help.

This determined patience, even joyful endurance is often called stability of heart by Benedictine monks. Anthony Bloom, an Orthodox priest who had experience living as a Benedictine monk taking a vow of stability, describes stability of heart this way:

    You will find stability at the moment when you discover that God is everywhere, that you do not need to seek Him elsewhere, that He is here, and if you do not find Him here it is useless to go and search for Him elsewhere because it is not Him that is absent from us, it is we who are absent from Him. This is important because it is only at the moment that you recognize this that you can truly find the fullness of the Kingdom of God in all its richness within you; that God is present in every situation and every place, that you will be able to say: “So then I shall stay where I am.”

I want to do this! So I’ve developed a goofy little practice where throughout my day—no matter what—I’m saying, “This is the moment God has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” I often forget during computer glitches and difficult phone calls but as soon I remember, I move in that direction.

Grace and peace,
Jan Johnson




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