Today: Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Fruit of the spirit #4: PATIENCE    (1/24/2016 )

You know the story. You're standing second in line in the supermarket, and you need the toilet. You have a month's shopping, and you want to get home in time for your favourite TV show. In front of you is a student in flip-flops, on the phone to his girlfriend, whose debit card is being refused for the third time as he attempts to pay for a very small number of very small items.

Can you feel the frustration rising up inside...?

Patience, someone once said, is waiting without anxiety. What on earth is it, do you think, that causes us to be so full of tension that we are incapable of waiting in any other state?

The first kind of impatience, the type in the example above (and a hundred others in our everyday lives), is with someone or something—the speed of an internet connection, a fly in the room, the chair on which we've just stubbed our toe... It is focused on somethingexternal, which has dared to inconvenience us in some way. For a moment, we lose control. Our bubble has been burst and we don't like it.

But patience is founded on the opposite notion: that we have a tiny capacity to control what is around us, and that our responses are much more important than our achievements.

The second type of impatience is subtly but crucially different; it is focused internally. Its anxiety, or anger, lies in the idea that to be delayed, to be hindered, to have to wait, will expose us for the failures we are. The person who drives us so crazy is only a mirror on the inadequacies or failings we're so afraid of in ourselves.

Dag Hammarskjöld, former UN secretary general, put it like this; “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart”. And I like Evelyn Underhill: she wrote that, “Patience with ourselves.... is the only humility. For it means patience with a growing creature whom God has taken in hand and whose completion he will effect in his time and way”.

Which brings me to the third and final kind of patience. Maybe it's the hardest. It's tough (maybe impossible) to exercise patience if we don't learn to be patient with God. Stay with me now. Most people at some time or other, regardless of their belief system, experience and express impatience with God. ‘He isn't all he's cracked up to be'; ‘Life hasn't worked out like I hoped'; ‘How can he allow this to happen...'

Our response to these questions depends on our decision (or not) to be patient with God. Will we decide that he's not worth the bother? That he's cruel, indifferent, absent, whatever? Or will we decide that he's good but, for whatever reason, so often, it seems we have to wait for him? After all, waiting without anxiety probably depends on who you're waiting for.

God wants to develop patience in us, because our patience leads to gentleness with other people—whom he loves just as much. And it teaches us to trust in him… however long it takes! Living day-by-day with God bears fruit… and one such fruit is greater patience. 

Pray: Lord God, so often the problems I have spring from a lack of patience... especially when it comes to my reactions to other people, particularly the ones I love the most. As I continue in my quest for knowing you, God, please help your special blessing of patience to blossom within me... for their sake, and yours, and mine. Amen.

Think about: God promised a son to the elderly and childless Sarah and Abraham in Genesis chapter 18—and he kept his promise (Genesis chapter 21). 

Challenge: How often have you rushed into a situation… only to find that your haste only made things worse? Happens to all of us, all of the time. Try to turn over a new leaf on this: when it's appropriate, take a moment to step back and consider things first. And before you do even that, ask God to step into the situation, too!

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