A few years ago I was speaking with a recovering addict in New Orleans. His life was pretty rough and he had not been clean for long. But, he had found his way into a supportive environment, was working and was rediscovering his belief in Christ and working to re-establish that relationship. We talked about a lot of different things. And, to be honest, I don't remember most of them. But one thing that he said has stuck with me.
He said something very close to "I'll tell you one thing I've learned. Never pray for patience. I used to pray for patience all the time, then I figured it out. God doesn't just give you patience. You don't just wake up one morning and suddenly have patience. God puts you in lots of situations to let you develop patience. It drove me crazy. I'd find myself in some situation and get really mad and inpatient and blow my top. I'd want to go shoot up to calm down.
Then I'd pray more and more for God to give me patience. And it would happen all over again. Now that I've figured it out, I'm not going to pray for patience anymore. I'm not ready for that. No, don't ever pray for patience."
Although I realized that it was probably pretty true, I kind of thought of it as a funny story at the time. He was so earnest and sincere. It was a lesson that he wanted to share with me. "Don't ever pray for patience" is what he said. But, it has taken me a few years before I have really started to recognize the lesson that he was sharing with me that day.
I have been with my new firm now for about four months. To be perfectly honest, there has been a lot of adjustment. It is a different place - I do not mean that in any disparaging way, it just has many differences from what I was used to. Things are run differently. I'm not "in the know" anymore. I'm uncertain of my status. I no longer work with some of my closest friends.
I have spent a ton more time on business development activities. In the last four months I have spoken on two panels, participated in two pitches to prospective clients, spent a lot of time working with my new colleagues to figure out if there is a way that they can work with my clients, helped with alerts, researched emerging issues and helped identify prospective clients in connection with multiple other practice groups, tried to put people I know in touch with lawyers doing particular kinds of work, etc., etc. I'm writing now from a hotel where I am after making a presentation to a group of clients and then socializing with them for a few hours. Frustrated about the amount of time that all this takes when there is work that I need to get done for my existing clients, I recently remarked to someone that I have spent more time on business development in the last four months than I did in the preceding 5 years!
It was really then that I hit me. I'm sure you've had this kind of experience when you say something, or hear something and suddenly things become perfectly clear. It just clicks.
As I mentioned above, one of my personal issues at my new firm is that I do not know where I stand. I'm not sure what is valued. I'm not sure how I compare to my colleagues. Are they billing more hours than I am? Are they responsible for more things than I am? Are they responsible for more important things than I am? What is the standard? In the midst of this discomfort, I've repeatedly turned to God in prayer. I've repeatedly shared with Him my doubts and fears and said - "God, I think what is important here is business. Where does it come from, who is responsible for it, and how much of it is there. In addition to just plain needing more work for myself, I think to be successful here I need to be opening more files."
I must have prayed 45 times something very close to - "God, if it is your will [note that writing these posts has helped me move forward on some things!], help me today to do what it takes to be successful here."
Even thought I didn't say it this way, by that what I really meant was - "God, please let me get a phone call or an email today from a client on a new matter." There have been a few times in the last little bit where that has happened, but most days go by without a new matter coming directly to me. It was not until I made the comment to my colleague about all the time that I have been spending doing business development that it came to me. I've been repeatedly praying that God help me to do what I need to do to be successful at my new firm. That hasn't resulted in me just suddenly waking up one morning with new business. What it has resulted in is God giving me a lot of opportunities to develop that business.
I think the lesson that person in New Orleans was trying to share with me - whether he ever would have phrased it this way at the time, or not - was that God does not always answer our prayers in the exact way that we would like. While it certainly happens some times, often He does not just grant wishes. Often He puts us in situations, or presents us with opportunities, or gives us a chance, to get to what we are praying for.
Even if we don't really recognize it at the time.
So, maybe the title for this post is a little much. Maybe it would be more accurate to have it be something like spend some time thinking about how God is answering your prayers in ways that you didn't notice. But, I am leaving it as it is - because that is how it was shared with me a few years ago and it stuck with me until it was time for me to understand.