Patience is a Letting Go

by | Oct 28, 2021

The other day a friend of mine offered a new way to understand patience. As he spoke of his 11-year-old son, he slowly and thoughtfully said, “Patience is a letting go.”

When I think of myself at my most impatient moments, they are the times I am most wrapped up in controlling outcomes:

  • An in-law excludes me and my husband from an important life event, and when no remorse is expressed, I am attached to the outcome I want (justice) and become filled with impatience
  • A friend doesn’t disclose she is unvaccinated before spending time with me indoors and unmasked, and when I find out, I am attached to the outcome I want (considerateness) and become filled with impatience

But what about the outcome of my impatience? When I get so focused on things that are out of my control, I lose sight of things that are within my control, such as the condition of my soul. And when impatience grows unattended, my soul is like a vigorously shaken snow globe – cloudy and chaotic.

Patience is a letting go.

In Minnesota, we are fortunate in the autumn season to have such a tangible analogy for letting go. All around us, leaves are letting go of trees and falling to the ground. And, in the words of Rainier Maria Rilke, each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”* Even after the leaves take the difficult step of letting go, their little leaf bodies motion their continued resistance. “No, no, no,” they say, resisting the uncertainty of their fall. How far is it? Will it hurt? What will happen next? It isn’t until the leaves land on the earth that they find some rest.

And yet there is Someone, whose hands

infinitely calm, hold up all this falling.*

What wisdom can the fallen leaves offer us?

I think of my garden beds. Last fall we covered our beds with the fallen leaves in hopes of enrichening our soil for the 2021 season. In the spring I encountered my first surprise when I raked off the leaves and our thyme plant emerged green and alive despite a very frigid winter. In the summer I encountered my second surprise when a forest of tomato plants popped up even though we didn’t plant any tomatoes this year. What I know for sure – neither of these delightful and generative surprises could have happened if the leaves had never let go.

I wonder what surprises might emerge from our letting go? What rest might our souls find in practicing this patience?

*From Rainier Maria Rilke’s poem “Autumn”