Patience, Patience, Patience

Patience. It is a quality that people generally lack. Most would say that they wish they were more patient. Some people think that patience is a birthright—few have it; most don’t--while other people think of it more as a cosmic trinket from God that they can magically and instantly own. This view is popular among Christians. It is requested of Him often in many prayer circles. There once was a time that I belonged to this group. I quickly learned that I did not really want “the gift” patience, and I now pity those who ask for it without understanding or sincerity.

Galatians 5:22 tells us that patience is a fruit of the Spirit. My translation actually uses the synonym “longsuffering.” I like the term longsuffering because anyone with an average intelligence quotient can dissect and rearrange the word into “suffering long.” Suffering long and producing fruit both require a couple of key ingredients—time and nurture. The reason most people flippantly pray for patience or offer the excuse, “I’m just not a patient person,” is because they do not understand the nature of patience. Patience is not something to be received beautifully gift-wrapped and easily opened. Rather, it is something to be earned through much focused practice and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

The focus must be on the goal. The only sensible reason to become patient is to be more like Jesus Christ. I see no other rational motive. What other benefit is there in being patient? Patience is not good for self. It does not make us feel better. The cost is not really worth simply being a better person. There are other ways to do that. To become more like Jesus, we must seek Him through the only means with which He has provided us—His word and prayer, and then live as He has commanded us. The focus must be on the goal, for attempting to live the life to which He calls us is difficult, and we will fail miserably if we rely on our instincts. Our instincts are self-seeking, which is why most people are disappointed with the results of their request for this illusive thing. What most people actually want when they ask for patience is the absence of conditions that try their patience, but to request such a thing in front of others or even in private would reveal the worst about themselves. Few of us want to confront such depravity. In reality, to ask for patience is really to ask for the opportunity to practice patience. These opportunities are rarely pleasant. They come in the form of heavy traffic when late, an abrasive personality, a repeated offense, a surrender of our own agendas. The time to pray for patience is not at a moment when there is nothing to try it, but at the very moment of our need. Our reaction to these learning opportunities is what will produce patience, and our only hope of responding well is in remembering God’s patience with us, and calling upon the Holy Spirit.

I will not often use this blog as a soap box. The only reason I chose to write about this topic today is because I have had several opportunities to practice patience in the last 48 hours, and I have mostly failed. I need to confess, refocus and recommit. I am beginning to think that having a child is the fruition of all those well-intended but ill-conceived prayers for patience, for Micah has given me more opportunities to practice patience in these last three months than I have known over my entire 25 years. I have won some, and lost some. While I do not always enjoy denying myself or relinquishing my plans to meet his needs, I find the classroom of parenthood a pleasant one, and as long as I can keep properly focused upon the Great Teacher, I have much to gain.