Recently I watched a TV show focused on the difficulty of understanding the Trump presi- dency. One commentator offered a suggestion as to why many of us are so puzzled (and aggravated) by the president’s words and actions. He said that the human personality is triggered to look for patterns; if we don’t see any pattern, we try to create one. When we can’t see or create a pattern, we become anxious. President Trump doesn’t fit any past pattern of governing. He also doesn’t fit the values that Christians hold dear. Hence the enormous anxiety we feel – which leads to the need to continually dissect the president’s behavior.
That comment stuck with me because a few days earlier I had described to my husband my need to create new routines (patterns) to accomplish common tasks. The memory I have relied on for decades and the pattern of living I am accustomed to are not as reliable as they used to be. So I am developing new rhythms and patterns to make sure that I can keep my life in order. My intention is that every day of the week has a pattern. Obviously things “come up” that deviate from the pattern. I don’t freak out when that happens because I know I can get back on track. This lifestyle may seem boring to some – too much routine and not enough spontaneity. To me creating patterns of order ensures that what I need to get done will get done so I can be spontaneous when the opportunity arises.
God as a Pattern-Maker
As I was musing about patterns, I was reminded that Creation is really patterns writ large (or tiny) throughout the known universe – and assuredly throughout the unknown universe. Our Creator God imagined beauty and order in the symmetry and/or repetitiveness of patterns in flowers, butterflies, zebras, snow crystals, spider webs, leaves, peacock wings, pine cones, four-leaf clovers, and bee hives.
Given our inherent preference for patterns, it is no wonder that continual spiritual formation depends on our creation of patterns. We can intentionally “try out” various soul-training exercises, but if we don’t form a pattern for using them, it is harder to form a spiritually mature life.
♥ I have learned the lesson of patterns from the prayer of examen: reflecting at the end of the day about whether events or decisions were life-giving or life-thwarting and then deciding how to implement more of the life-giving and eliminate the life-thwarting.
♥ I learned the pattern of forgiveness one angry day decades ago. As I sat on the edge of my bed, I was very forthright with God. “If you want me to forgive her,” I said, “you’ll have to make it happen!” I soon realized that I was exactly right. My role in forgiving is to make a conscious choice; making that choice a spiritual reality is the work of the Holy Spirit. Since then I have had daily opportunities to repeat that pattern: be alert to the need to forgive, make a choice to forgive, and await the peace that comes from forgiveness.
♥ Memorizing the 23rd Psalm and saying it every night has created a pattern in my brain and in my heart. These words fit together now . . . if I leave any out I have messed up the pattern that my brain depends on. Counting my blessings every night is a way of relieving the anxiety and frustration of life never coming together “properly.” The pattern of looking for, relishing, and then expressing gratitude for my blessings brings joy back into a sour world.
It seems that the idea of creating patterns is part of the image of God in us. Our unruly thoughts, emotions, and behaviors can be tamed if we imagine for ourselves patterns in every experience of life – then fit ourselves comfortably into them.