Still Learning Patience—A Letter to My Dad


Dear Dad,

A few months ago, I pulled out the bible you gave me when I graduated high school. It was a hard cover, mottled brown NIV, the pages tearing away at the spine. It’s well-worn. It travelled with me from those first months of Bible college in the UK, through college and university days, and into my newly-wed life. Back then I scoured its pages for comfort and answers, for wisdom and shreds of hope. I highlighted and underlined whispers of affirmation and prayed for the ever-elusive peace I was searching for.

You wrote on the front page of that Bible these nine words, “The well of the Lord runs deep. Learn patience.”

I remember thinking at the time, “What does he know about my me and my patience?”

Dad, I always knew you loved me. I also knew you were proud of the things I accomplished and my drive to be an independent, purpose-driven woman. While I don’t specifically recall you giving me advice about my future career aspirations, my arc towards political and social issues was unquestionably nurtured from our mutual desire to make our communities and our country a better, safer, more Jesus-loving place.

But the truth is I never felt seen by you. I never felt that you really knew me.

If you knew me, you would know that for most of my life I was afraid of disappointing you, of not being able to measure up. I was afraid I somehow fell short of being worthy of love and acceptance for who I was, so I did everything in my power to be better, smarter, faster, more involved, so I could stand out and be noticed. By you.

So those words, learn patience, jumped off the page and caught in my throat because for 18 years, I had been patiently waiting for you to say, “Well done, Daughter. I see how hard you have been working. Good job. I am so proud of you.”

And in that moment of turning the cover open to the front page, the fear of disappointment suddenly turned into the cruelest reality of disappointment.

I resented those words.
I resented not being seen.
And then, I resented you.

In the ensuing years, our relationship was not always an easy one. It had its share of biased assumptions, misunderstandings, miscommunications, on both sides. There were periods of silence and distance. We were often cordial, yet rarely comforting or authentic. Always polite, often pulling at the seams.

When I read those words again 35 years later, all those memories flooded back. And while they were in fact true for the time and circumstances we both found ourselves in, other thoughts, hidden, curious considerations, began to surface.

Contentment in my present was always a challenge for me. I was often looking around the corner for what was next … the next thing to learn, a new place to explore, the next challenge to overcome. Sometimes that meant I left people and projects behind when they no longer held my interest or served my purpose. And because of my urgency to constantly move forward, at times I may have missed out on seeing something through to its completion and experiencing the satisfaction deep within my soul of a job well done.

Well done.

Those were the words I longed to hear from my father.

The realization flooded over me like a tsunami of clarity … Those nine words he gifted to me some 35 years earlier did, in fact, come from a place of deep knowing and wholehearted love from a flawed father to an overachieving daughter.

He did see me.
Perhaps better than I saw myself.

He saw deep inside of me a streak of relentless striving that would prevent me from experiencing the flourishing intended for me. He knew that if I truly committed myself to learning patience, and drawing from my Creator all that I needed to be content, I would experience a fullness far beyond my own well-intentioned capacity.

Maybe the affirmation of a job well done was never meant to be dependent on him, or anyone else, but from the One who formed me from inside my mother’s womb and charted a journey of ridiculous adventure far beyond what I could have ever imagined.

Well, damn.

And here I sit in the middle of sub-Saharan Africa, looking out over the cloud streaked terraced hills in a southwest village in Rwanda. This is a place where nothing moves quickly. Church lasts for hours and meals are prepared over open fires. It’s a place where a paved road is a welcome relief and goats share the roads with scooters, land cruisers and hundreds of people walking in all directions.

I’m still learning patience, Dad. xx