Before feudal Japan was united under the Shogun in the 17th century, it was ruled over by three great samurai generals. They were Oda Nobunaga, Ieyasu Tokugawa, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. There is a legendary story that people tell about them which is supposed to illustrate the different personalities of these three generals. It goes like this.
One day, the three generals were meeting together, holding court and having tea. A visiting guest offered the three of them a gift of a beautiful songbird. However, upon receiving the bird, it was found that it would not sing. Nobunaga said, “kill it.“ Hideyoshi said, “teach the bird to sing.“ But Tokugawa said, “wait.“
I think their three reactions have something to teach us about how we respond to problems in our life. Sometimes our first reaction is anger, and to cut the problem (or the cause of the problem) out of our life; to kill it. Indeed, there are times when that can be the correct reaction. However, it can also needlessly cause strife, create new problems, or cause you to miss out on experiencing something good that could have come out of the situation.
Sometimes our immediate desire is to fix the problem. We want to “teach the bird to sing.” This can be a good response at times when we are acting out of compassion and acting wisely. It is a good response when we really can fix the problem. Unfortunately, many times our desire to fix the problem comes out of desperation, or a need to be in control. Sometimes we cannot fix a problem. And in those cases trying to fix the problem can actually make things worse.
Often overlooked is the wise response of Tokugawa. It is true that sometimes people procrastinate when it comes to facing their problems, and this can indeed make a problem worse. It is also true that sometimes the best thing you can do is patiently wait before doing or saying anything. Waiting can prevent a rash response that would make the problem worse. And often times, it can prevent us from making a problem seem bigger than it really is. Sometimes simply waiting patiently and trusting in the Lord, will allow a problem to resolve itself. Or it may help you to see that it might not have even been a problem in the first place.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. Psalm 37:7-8