Three Things I’m (Re)Learning about Patience

@#$%&! patience!

Friends–I’m posting this today because it speaks to me–we can’t get home because of a major storm. It also speaks to my whole life right now–waiting. I first wrote it a couple of years ago. I’ve updated it and posted it again here:

My three-year-old son, Caleb, is not a very patient person. If I’m making him food to eat, he’ll often cry, because he isn’t already eating the food. If we’re riding in our car and just 5 minutes from home, he’ll whine, because he wants out of his car seat now. If he’s ready to go somewhere and I’m not quite ready, he’ll fuss, because my timing doesn’t match his timing. He has no sense of perspective. It’s almost like he can’t see a big enough picture to wait for just a minute. It’s almost like his sense of time and perspective is so limited that he doesn’t recognize the absurdity of his impatience. It’s almost like waiting any amount of time is waiting too long. And yes, I’ll say it before you can: he comes by it naturally.Patience

Who’s got time for patience anyway? I don’t. I mean, let’s be honest—patience isn’t exactly a ‘hot topic’ around most people’s dinner tables. Some of us confuse patient people with boring people (they’re just ‘patient’ because they have nothing to live for), or we just think patient people lack motivation (sure, you’re patient—that’s why you never get anything done—and why I have to do it all). Patience isn’t exactly breaking news (pardon the pun). We celebrate lightning fast computers, bigger faster cell networks, faster internet providers, faster news feeds . . . the list goes on and on. When was the last time you saw an ad that was marketing patience? Do you value patience?

I don’t. Or at least I didn’t. You know how you interview for jobs, and people ask, “What’s your greatest strength, and what are your greatest weaknesses?” and then, you try to find a weakness that is really a strength? (“I admit, I really struggle with perfectionism. I just can’t stop until a job is done right . . .”) When I was interviewing for youth pastor positions 9 years ago, I got a Christian version of that: “Which of the fruits of the Spirit are you strongest in, and which do you struggle most with?” Of course, you remember the options: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Immediately, my mind raced, asking, What are the ‘safe’ answers to that question? I replied, with honesty, that I struggle with patience. I’m often too eager to see progress happen now. In both cases, they offered me the job. Can you imagine how the interview would have gone if I had picked some of the other ‘fruits’ of the Spirit? I really struggle with gentleness. When I get angry, I just like to hit people. Or, Self-control just isn’t my thing. If something tempts me, I just do it. Or, I’m really just not a very kind person. I sort of think kindness is overrated. I’d probably still be job searching! But patience—that’s kind of a safe answer. It’s ok to be impatient. People think, “He’s just driven.” And so, patience gets swept to the side as another personality-driven virtue that only certain temperaments can be expected to have.

That’s how I thought of it—at least deep down. Of course, no one is dumb enough to actually say that patience is worthless—we just live that way. We just don’t pay any attention to nurturing patience or wishing for patience. It’s a forgotten virtue. But that blew up in my face a few years back. I was outlining 2 Timothy, and noticed that Paul describes himself as patient. Paul? Patient? Mr. Driven-Personality? Mr. Urgency? Mr. Accomplishment? Patient? If Paul is patient, then patience surely isn’t slowness. It’s not passivity. It isn’t shirking responsibility in the name of ‘trusting God.’ It isn’t absence of stress or an unwillingness to push hard. None of those things describe Paul.

So, what is patience? I asked some friends for help. If you’d like to join me on my journey, here’s what I’m thinking so far:

  • There is ‘big-picture’ patience and ‘in-the-moment’ patience. ‘Big-picture’ patience has to do with major life circumstances. For me, right now, it’s my desire to be fully functional in Hungary. ‘In-the-moment’ patience has to do with immediate circumstances. For me, those are times when I’m running late, when others are late, or when someone’s behavior is difficult to deal with (like a toddler crying . . .).
  • Patience is about trusting the God who truly loves you. Like everything (!), patience is an element of loving God and loving others (Mt. 22). My confidence in God’s love for me frees me to wait for His movement. I can rest, knowing He loves me even more than I love myself. Many friends talked about having ‘faith to be at peace with God’s timing’ or ‘trust.’ (‘Big picture’ patience)
  • Patience is about caring for the person you’re waiting for. My friend says, “I think of John 21… Jesus appearing to his disciples on the lake…waiting for them by a fire…guiding Peter…wanting his “kids” to get it. This was the third time he appeared to them.” My love for others causes me to be patient, even when it disrupts my plan or timeline. Another friend said, “I think patience is, one of many, acts of selflessness. So it would be a result of “love God, love people” for the purpose of putting someone else’s needs (time, your attention, kind words, encouragement…) above our own, because Jesus did it first.” (‘In-the-moment’ patience)

I’m really not very patient. Liz and Caleb can attest to that. But here are some ways that patience is working into my life:

  • We are so eager to be ‘up-and-running’ here in Hungary–competent culturally, understanding language, leaning into people’s lives . . . But God has a different time-table than us. My confidence in God’s love for me frees me to wait for His movement—even if it doesn’t match my timing.
  • I’m terrible at waiting for late people. (And, of course, sometimes habitually late people need to be challenged to grow for their own good.) But remembering that ‘caring for others is more valuable than my happiness or timeframe’ helps me focus on the person that needs love, not my schedule.

I’m starting to think that this is the key: Patience isn’t just a belief or a state of being. It’s a relational force, based on who/what you most love at the time. Patience is ‘loving enough to wait’ for God’s timing. Patience is ‘loving enough to wait’ for people. Patience is loving enough to wait.

How about you? How is patience working into your life? What values and beliefs can you share with the rest of us as we seek to join God’s heart in this area?


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