Years back, one of my students got me hooked. On Sudoku. During study hall he pulled out a puzzle book and I wandered over, and that's all it took. The pic above shows a puzzle, and for those not aware of Sudoku requirements, you enter the numbers 1-9 in each box of 9 spaces, in each row and column, without any duplicates. You begin with some numbers filled in and you do the rest.
Every possible number candidate gets placed in a box, then you slowly eliminate them. A recent puzzle had 27 numbers filled in, and after figuring all I could, I had a total of 160 numbers in the 81 spaces. That was SLOW progress. But once about half the numbers get eliminated, the pace picks up, and at the end you positively fly.
Spiritual formation seems similar. We sometimes begin tediously slow, then after some time the speed increases, or, rarely, almost miraculously appears.
Here's one example. I've always loved words, and tried to get published in my mid 20's, only to realize I had absolutely nothing worthwhile to say. Fast forward another 20 years, mix in some time pastoring and taking grad courses in theology, blend in a sabbatical, and that led to another attempt. 9 books followed, but I had a lot of learning and growing and maturing to do what I'd yearned for years before. Despite what I thought earlier, I wasn't ready then.
Another example. His dad's favorite, Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. And we think we have dysfunctional families! He did OK for a short time, but ended up in prison, forgotten. 13 years later, Pharaoh put him in charge of storing food for an upcoming famine. Add 14 more years, Joseph's brothers came to Egypt to buy grain, not realizing they had to deal with their brother whom they'd sold 27 years earlier. Joseph's position, "But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God... You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives" (Genesis 45;7-8; 50:20. You can read the whole story in chapters 37-50).
So, what can we learn from Sudoku?
1. Be patient. Fill in all the blanks. Eliminate what doesn't work. Building the foundation is the slowest part of building. Build your spiritual foundation gradually, with a firm spiritual connection to Jesus, develop your competencies, and don't rush the right time.
2. Don't expect a specific outcome. With a plethora of numbers in each space, I don't bet on one particular number being right. I don't know enough early on. I imagine Joseph, while sitting in an Egyptian dungeon, ever dreamed of becoming the COO of Egypt, nor of meeting his brothers. But he embraced what had to seem like a waste of time, doing nothing but languishing. Once I gave up my dream of writing, I never expected to see it return and become what it has. Or, let God be God to you.
Kick Starting the Application
Do you seem stuck with no progress in some area? Any ideas why? Could it be you're not quite ready yet? Have you sometimes tried to rush things and twisted them all out of shape? What led you to do that? How do you balance ambition with faith and contentment? What might help you specifically to become more patient with spiritual progress?