They say (and I would really like to know who “they” are) that patience is a virtue. “They” are correct it is a virtue, one most of us, in the heat of any given moment where we find ourselves acting badly, desperately wish we had. It is a virtue that is most elusive. In fact, years ago I quit praying for patience as I would quickly find myself in the most stressful and trying situations. But lately, I find I am praying for patience once again. And yes, currently my patience is being sorely tried. I find myself stressed more often than not. And yes, for those of you who have read previous posts, I have just returned from being on holiday/vacation. And yes you are right, I should be relaxed and while I am, I also am not. The reasons for this are many and varied and too long to list. My typical ways of dealing with this kind of stress are not working. I find when this happens to me, when what I usually do doesn’t work God is trying to teach me something. But at this moment what I want to say to God is: “I am tired, I am stressed, and I don’t really want to learn anything new right now!” But apparently, NOW is when God needs to teach me something. The question is: “What?”
So like the good scholar/learner/seeker I am, when I need answers, I turn to my Bible, books, and other resources and begin to ask questions. Because at 58, I have learned all good learning begins with a question. So my question is: “Why must I, a fairly patient person to begin with, learn about being patient?” And my next question is pretty much: “What must I learn about patience?”
So, what I have learned: The Bible has quite a lot to say about patience and when something is repeated many times in Scripture, we need to pay attention because the subject is important. Patience is important. It is important in every relationship we have, in every interaction we engage in, and quite frankly in everything we do. In all things we need patience. For those of us who are especially religious, we also need patience as we wait on God and his perfect timing in our lives. Keeping in mind that God’s timing is certainly NOT our timing.
Another thing I have learned centers around the 7 Deadly Sins. Many of us have heard about the 7 Deadly Sins. But do you also know there are 7 Virtues that contrast to each of the 7 sins? I found it fascinating to discover that the opposite of patience is wrath. But in reality it makes sense. When we lose our patience we usually also lose our temper. Hmmm…no wonder patience is mentioned so many times in Scripture! Getting angry is one of the quickest ways I know to ruin relationships, alienate people, and gain a reputation for being down right disagreeable. Something I don’t think any of us really wants. Which means cultivating the virtue of patience is very important. So the virtue of patience is something we have to develop and the only way we develop patience is to have our patience tried so we can learn to use our patient muscles. (heavy sigh)
I also learned a Hindu teaching about virtues that basically says virtues are something that cannot be imposed but are instead something that we need to realize how much we need them on our own and then develop the habits that will cultivate the virtue. Paul wrote basically the same thing in Galatians 5:3 – 4, “…because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope…” We have to work each and every day to cultivate the virtues we would like to exhibit in our lives and eventually day by day we are filled more and more with the virtue we are cultivating.
Actually…When I think about it, this may be why I am so irritated because I am typically a very patient person. Why do I need to work on being more patient!?! If I were to list off the things that I lose patience over it I would have to reach down pretty deep to discover those things that help me lose my patience. It tends to be the accumulation of small stuff. Since I am being brutally honest about myself – I am currently being pestered by every manner of little annoyances known to both men and women. And they are all driving me nuts and making me more than a little irritated, at times resentful, and definitely impatient! As I have discovered, the opposite of patience is wrath…
…and there it is. There is what God is trying to get me to see. I may indeed be a very patient person. I may be someone who can handle all the big things that come into my life but then there is the small stuff. It is in the small stuff I get impatient. It is in the small stuff I lose my cool. It is in the small stuff I get irritated. It is in the small stuff I get angry. And it is my anger in all its many forms that will hurt my relationships. I think Jesus said something along these lines in his Sermon on the Mount about not getting angry and likening anger to murder, (Matthew 5:21 – 22) which makes sense because anger does kill our relationships.
They say (there are those they people again!) “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” That is easy to do when you only have one or maybe two small things you are handling. But what happens when you have one after another after another? Those small things accumulate until they become the elephant in the room and are a lot harder to handle because there are so many and wrath lurks just around the corner. Maybe that is why the proverbial straw broke the camel’s back – it was just one straw too many.
So, it seems God needs me to work on not letting the many small details of life become irritating. I think it is because God does not want resentment, anger, or wrath to gain a foothold on my heart. Truthfully, neither do I.