Patience may be a virtue, but it’s definitely not my strong suit. I hate to wait. H-A-T-E it. But somewhere back in my teens, I made the mistake of asking God for patience and—because God loves me and also has a tremendous sense of humor—rather than miraculously transform my nature overnight into a blissfully forbearing abider, God has given me zillions of opportunities to practice what I asked for. It’s been a hard lesson learned.
Abide. It means to wait for something, patiently. Abiding is no easy feat, especially not in a culture that is success-driven, instant-gratification-oriented, and pathologically impatient.
Waiting is a part of the human condition. Waiting for the train to come at rush hour. Waiting for the next big break, for regime change in the White House, for the hearts of Americans to turn softly toward their brothers and sisters in the developing world. We wait.
By exercising the spiritual gift of abiding, gracefully or begrudgingly, patience has slowly begun to take hold in me. At the times when I’m feeling the most impatient and the least able to abide, my thoughts turn to Jeffrey “the Dude” Lebowski, the quintessential slacker and big-hearted antihero of Joel and Ethan Coens’ film The Big Lebowski.
The Dude is most certainly a lazy man, but he also may be what the Jewish tradition might call a lamed vavnik—one of the 36 righteous souls so pure that the fate of the world rests on their shoulders (even if they have no idea that it does). In the final scene of the Coens’ 1998 comic masterpiece, the Dude runs into a 10-gallon-hat-wearing fellow known as “The Stranger” at the bar of the local bowling alley. “Take it easy, Dude,” the Stranger tells him, “and I know that you will.”
“Mwelp,” the Dude says, shrugging, “the Dude abides.”
Doesn’t he, though? The Stranger sees the big, eternal truth in the Dude’s simple statement, saying, “I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there ... takin’ ’er easy for all us sinners.”
To me, the Dude that abides—and teaches us how to—is Jesus.
Perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned (from that dude Jesus) in what it means to abide is something I’m in the middle of right now. As I write this, I’m sitting in the waiting room of a hospital in Chicago, waiting to hear news about Vasco Sylvester, a 10-year-old AIDS orphan from Malawi I met in fall 2007 on a trip to Africa. Vasco has a serious heart defect and surely would have died a sinfully early death without life-saving medical intervention—treatment that was not available to him in his native Malawi.
For more than 20 months, my husband and I and a team of kind-hearted doctors, lawyers, diplomats, family, friends, and total strangers worked to bring Vasco to the United States for open-heart surgery. Along the way, there were so many days when it felt like Vasco would never come.
Still, we abided. We worked. We finagled. We were pushy and determined. We prayed. And we waited. We had to. Vasco needed us to abide for him—to step into the space God, in grace, had waiting for him, and hold it until he was ready to move in.
Finally, Vasco arrived, the beautiful boy with the big, broken heart. Spring had sprung, punctuating the long winter’s bleak grayness with bursts of pink and green, new life where it felt like there was none.
I may not be patient yet, but I’m heading in the right direction. The Dude abides. Amen and Hallelujah!
Cathleen Falsani, the author of Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace, blogs at falsani.blogspot.com.