Passivity is a discipline. In fact, sometimes I think it is the hardest discipline – particularly in a culture like ours. We humans like to DO things. We like to build. We like to invent. We like to build relationships and parse them out when they breakdown. We like to plant and grow and make. We like to talk and write and sing. We like to be masters of our fate, captains of our ships, directors of our plays. We seek, we strive, we fight, we climb mountains simply because they are there. We admire those who do it well and follow those who champion the cause of doing. Which is good and well. It is as it should be in most ways. And yet . . .
Here in the great Northern Tundra of the Upper Midwestern United States, there will be a reduced apple harvest this year, although fortunately it’s not as bad as some had feared. You see, as in much of the country, winter was mild and warm weather showed up early. The apple trees woke early from their winter doze and sent out their blossoms into the warmth. However, March and April had merely traded places. The warmth of March that tricked the trees into releasing their blossoms too soon gave way to frosts of April that threatened the delicate apple blossoms before they had time to set fruit. So now, this fall when the trees produce the fruit of a long summer of growing in warmth and rain, their harvest will be inferior. All because the trees were tricked into think their passive winter wait was over and their time to shine and begin the work of making fruit was at hand. But the conditions that made them think their time had come were not sustainable.
We humans are not trees. We don’t have to be tricked into acting outside of our proper time. But it requires great discipline to refrain from action when conditions seem ripe even when we know it’s not sustainable. We tell ourselves we’ll work it out later. But this is a lesson to learn. To be passive. To wait. And most of all to allow God time enough to work in us and on us.
We see the first sign of a direction we might take and rush off to pursue it. We are touched by some discomfort or fear or even panic and rather than allow ourselves to lean into it and learn what it has to teach us, we assume it is prodding us forward on a path that will lead us away from it. We see everyone around us doing and flourishing and producing while we are hemmed in by some previous engagement or some unfinished time of aridity and believe we would be failing if we did not fight to free ourselves and join in the bursting forth of blossoming spring. But because we do not know the discipline of being passive, we are too often like those apple trees who lost many of their blossoms when the frost came. And like those trees, our harvest is reduced. Those trees will not provide as great a benefit to their owners as they would have had they been able to resist rushing out into an unseasonably warm March.
Of course, as I said, our preference for action and doing is good and well. The harvest of honest effort is usually preserved in part, even when the discipline of waiting is not practiced with much skill. But it’s not the true harvest we are meant to bear. It’s the relationships with our kids that are never quite what they ought to be because we were busy stocking and provisioning so they would never know want. It’s the marriages that wear thin and become shells of what they could have been because we want our spouse to meet our needs and fix their problems (and ours!) now rather than being willing to allow the time it takes to learn to do the dance together. It’s the people who never reach the full glory of who they are meant to be because they don’t have time or space in their world to grow and heal into that person. It’s the Christian who has told a thousand people why they need to be “saved” but hardly touched the heart of a few because they never allowed God the time to teach them about their own hearts.
We need passive times. Even in places where winter doesn’t put everything to sleep, each growing thing has its season for fruiting or birthing or blossoming. Each animal must rest each day. And each human needs to allow themselves the time it takes to become. To be shaped and taught by God. To be saved from the ugly confusion of who they are being to the reality and joy of who they are truly made to be. But this takes a willingness to be passive. To rest. To refuse to allow business and doing to swallow each waking hour and many that should be spent not awake. It is a discipline to refuse action for a time in order to allow the full harvest we are capable of to develop.
A great deal of human suffering is created by fighting against the way things are designed to work. When we allow ourselves to be tricked into sending out our blossoms early we will produce an inferior harvest later on. Often we experience these times of passivity as bitter pills. A hated sickness. A need for sleep when there is still work to be done. An opportunity that passes by because we are being held back by other demands. We rant and fight and will even destroy relationships and lives in an attempt to avoid those times of passivity and waiting. It seems a weakness to us to disengage from doing in order to wait. But as God said to Paul, and through him to us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” It is something that God asks of us – to learn this discipline of leaning into rather than running away from our weakness. But he has promised a greater harvest for those who will allow him the time and space in our lives to make his power perfect in us.