When I was a kid, my grandma always told me, “Patience is a virtue.” She told me over and over and over again. Yes, I agree. Patience may be a virtue, but for most of us it does not come easy.
Maybe you’ve said it yourself, “I don’t like praying for patience, because I know God will bring something into my life that will require patience.” We say these kinds of things tongue in cheek, but I think they show us how unnatural it is for us to practice patience, especially, when it comes to relationships.
Whether it’s with our kids, spouse, parents, or even our friends, we are often impatient with those we love most. This might strike you as odd, but take a moment and ask yourself, were you surrounded by people you love the last time you were impatient? For me, lately, my impatience has been rearing it’s ugly head around my 2-year-old son. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the kid, but for the last couple of months I’ve had to love him at 2 am. His 2nd-year molars have been coming in. As each tooth pierces through his young gums, his sleep becomes non-existent. Sometimes, he’s kicking and screaming at 2 am (and so am I). Other times, he’s awake at 4 am happy as a clam. There is no predicting what kind of night we have ahead us and it leaves me feeling on edge and wishing these molars would hurry up already. If patience is a virtue, then lately, I’ve been held captive by the vice of impatience.
If you’re anything like me, impatience stirs up all kinds of behavior that I’m not proud of. Like, when I don’t think before I speak and say things I regret, or when I ignore what’s happening in front of me and just scroll on my phone instead of staying present to those I love. Of course, I want to be a person who is present even in the most difficult of situations and someone who remains kind when I feel like my patience is being pushed beyond its limits. I’m sure you are too. So, how does our Christian faith expand our understanding of patience and shape our behavior as a result?
Like so much of the Christian life, patience begins with humility. Humility accepts that we cannot control other people. When we feel impatient with other people, it's often because we can’t get them to do what we want them to do. When my son wakes me up at 2 am, all I want is for him to go back to sleep, but often, that is outside of my control. In these moments, God is using patience to invite me to have a posture of humility. It’s like what the famous Serenity prayer says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” Patience is the fruit of accepting the things we cannot change. As the apostle Paul reminds us, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). Humility and gentleness lead us into lives of patience and patience leads us right back to gentleness and humility.
The Bible is a story of hope. Therefore, the Bible is a story of patience. Whether it was Noah and his family waiting to see dry land, Abraham and Sarah waiting for a positive pregnancy test, or the disciples on the Saturday after the crucifixion waiting for resurrection, the scriptures tell us a story of hope and patience. Whenever we hope, we are called to patience. Whenever we are patient, we are embodying hope.
We hope for things we cannot control. Even Jesus said, he didn’t know the time or the day when he would return and make all things new. So, the more we cultivate a spirit of hope, the more we cultivate a spirit of patience. You may be hoping that your college-age child would return to church, or that your grandma would get good news at her next doctor’s appointment, but, regardless of what you’re hoping for, you have to wait, and waiting means patience. As Paul says, “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:25). So often, we most acutely feel the sting of patience just before the arrival of what we hope for.
In moments when patience is agonizingly painful, our best choice is to love. Love is the great coverup of all evil. The more we love, the more we put to death sin. Yet, love is exhausting work. So, Paul encouraged the Galatian church to never give up. He writes, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). Like the farmer patiently toils all summer long until the great harvest comes in the Fall, so we must toil under the sun of patience, in all love, until Jesus returns.
All of these invitations of patience make way for its greatest invitation of all, communion with the triune God. A life marked by patience is a life marked by continual conversation with God through prayer. Like any conversation with a loving confidant, we talk and share honestly, but we also listen for guidance. So, Paul says, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12). Prayer is the foundational ingredient and fruit of patience, love, hope and humility. All of these great virtues are tied together in prayer.
So, when your toddler wakes you up at 2 am, or your husband forgets to empty the trash (again), or when any number of unexpected things happen in relationships, let patience invite you into the life of Christ. A life marked by humility, hope, love, and prayer.
Rev. Joel Vande Werken