Legend has it that as St. Augustine was shifting from the rather active social life of his youth (euphemism alert) to a life in the church, he prayed to the Lord: “Give me chastity, but not yet.” A variation on that prayer comes to mind as the season of Advent begins: “Give me patience and give it to me right away.”
Advent, a countercultural season invites us to slow down and be quiet as the rest of the world cranks up activity, often with concurrent uptick in crankiness. With long lists of things to do, the church pushes in the opposite direction. The church invites us to do less. The church invites us to wait. The church calls us to patience. Easier said than done. Any ideas on how to become more patient? I’m all ears.
Whether waiting for coffee at Starbucks, or waiting in traffic, or waiting to board a plane, or waiting for a report from the doctor, or waiting for a job offer, or waiting to become a more spiritually evolved person, or waiting for the Kingdom of God, this season can be a challenge. For me, the focus on spiritual expectation and anticipation with its call to patience, represents a growth opportunity. How do we wait? How do we become more patient?
A few thoughts on patience, from someone who knows too little about it:
First of all, patience is apparently a gift. That virtue is described in Paul’s letter to the Galatians as one of the fruits of the spirit. We claim holy activity, divine agency in making it possible for us to live life patiently. With that in mind, give thanks for the measure of patience you have. It’s holiness at work in you. Give thanks for those in your life who regard you with patience. That is God’s work in the community. And if you dare, ask God for the gift of patience. (But be careful, the way that prayer gets answered may try your patience.)
Second, patience is a practice, which is to say that we grow in this particular virtue as we try it out, as we give it our best shot. How might we practice it more fully? What gets in the way of viewing life with patience? Maybe there are ways to act as if we are more patient than we actually are. When tempted to respond with urgency, how can we have the presence of mind and spirit to relax, to breathe, to count to ten, or drink a tall glass of water, to practice forbearance and forgiveness, to ask “What’s the big rush?”
Finally, patience seems to be something of a creed. A disposition of patience says a lot about what we believe. To respond to life with patience suggests some level of trust, an admission that while we may not know the future, we know the one who holds the future. If we can find a way to let go and let God, we find resources for living with patience. We have put faith into action. We have shown what we believe.
Often we confuse patience with tolerance. Putting up with a jerk, who may be a parent, child, sibling, colleague, boss, employee, or on a larger scale, a public figure who makes us nuts. Like any spiritual virtue, we can often find a way to make it something that sets us apart from others, holier than thou and all that.
But if we can remember that patience is a gift, and practice it as such, and share it as such with people and circumstances that call for patience, we may well have lived into the spirit of the season of Advent, as a reflection of the gracious and very patient God we worship.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.
Why is patience so important? Because it makes us pay attention.
A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.
-Henri J.M. Nouwen
Favorite bumper sticker:
(Please be patient. God is not finished with me yet.)
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