Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
We’ve all heard the great American Prayer: Lord, grant me patience, and I want it right now! Patience is a virtue that is not always looked on with favor by society. Many of our inventions are a result of impatience: frozen dinners, the entire fast-food industry, faster WiFi speeds, instant coffee, powdered orange juice, liposuction, Cliff Notes, freeway express lanes, cell phones, canned foods, movie trailers…
As a society, we don’t want to wait. The news stations call elections with just 40% of the vote in. Our motto has become: Give it to me quick or forget about it all together. Few of us like to wait: in lines, at traffic lights, or stop signs, at the DMV, at the airport. I am happy I have a Known Traveler number when I buy a plane ticket because it makes me ‘Pre TSA’ and saves me time at the airport. We become irritated when we cut in front of someone to get to the “10 items or less” line only to find that the person in front of us has 16 items. We become impatient if our technology, which is supposed to save us time, doesn’t work right.
There is something satisfying for many of us by saving even the smallest amount of time. So, we pass other cars needlessly, and sometimes recklessly; the guy in front of us who is already keeping up with the flow of traffic but is hanging back from the person in front of them for safety reasons. We don’t care; we pass them and fill in the wasted space-time continuum. We save almost .23 seconds of our life by moving in front of the guy. Yay us! Success! We have conquered the moment; crammed more into our desperate lives.
Patience is more than a virtue, as the Bible teaches us it is one of the fruits of Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 teach us that these are the fruits of Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These are the qualities that a Spirit-filled awareness displays; they naturally flow from us when we are in tune with Christ. And if they do not … well, guess who we are not in tune with?
Many of us suffer from a “scurry syndrome”. We have an inordinate sensitivity to the passage of time. We want to hurry and scurry from one event to the next, and time passes more slowly for those of us with this ‘scurry syndrome’. A minute passes intolerably slowly, and a wait in the doctor’s office is a lifetime of misery. Many of us live this way: We live in ‘the fast lane’, even when it is Carson City, not Los Angeles. Our plates are full, and we complain that there’s not enough time to do everything we need to do.
I am all too familiar with this syndrome. I work a full-time job, am a Minister, and all of this requires time. My normal unthinking state is to allow events and its circumstances to control my emotions and my reactions. So on occasion, I can be quite impatient, yet at other times I can be quite calm and imperturbable. It absolutely depends upon how attuned I am to Spirit in that moment. It takes a conscious effort on my part to remain unflappable, but I can do it. Psychologists call this our Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, for Emotional Quotient. This is how we manage our emotions, including our patience, or lack thereof. Things got better for me when a couple of years ago my work changed my position and gave me a half-day off on Fridays. This really made me feel that I had some time for Mary and me. It has given me enough ‘me time’ to make a difference in my EQ.
If we are not careful, those of us with the ‘scurry syndrome’ can fall prey to physical ailments: stress, high blood pressure, ulcers, tension headaches, lowered resistance to health issues, and other conditions such as a neglected spouse and children, a deteriorating spiritual life, a short temper, and interminable impatience.
Impatience can affect any of us. But the irony is that most of life is about waiting. Waiting to be married, waiting to have children, waiting for the gestation period to pass, waiting to be accepted into a college, waiting to graduate, waiting for a job – the right job. We wait to get into the doctor’s appointment, then wait for test results. We wait for the right partner to enter our lives, wait for someone to buy our house, to find the right house. Waiting is one of the hardest things we do as Children of God. Whether we like it or not, life requires us to wait. We may as well learn to wait, to be patient, because it is going to happen; and it is never too late to learn or get better.
Psalm 27:14 tells us: Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” Again, in Psalm 37:7 we are instructed to: Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.” In the Bible, there are times when important things are about to happen, and the instruction is to wait. For instance, in Acts, Christ and the disciples share a meal together and the future is discussed when Jesus would return to heaven and the disciples would be left to teach the message of Christ. There was no 10-year plan discussed, no numbers run by the accountant Matthew. Instead, the instruction from Christ was to return to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit to arrive. This is what God so often shows us: When He wants to reach the world, His first step is to tell us to slow down and wait for him. When the time is right, He’ll give us the signal to move out. Until then, we are to go back home and wait on the Lord.
Why? Why do we need to wait? There may be many reasons, but here are five good ones. First, when we face difficulties or decisions, it is necessary to align our priorities with God, and our first priority is to listen to Spirit; to hear that still small voice offering guidance. We cannot do that when we are in the fast lane with all of our attention on the road in front of us. There are times when we need to pull over and be still. We must release the frustration of a busy life and embrace the peace and power of patience. Patience is an emotionally freeing practice of watching, waiting, and knowing when God guides us to act.
Second, waiting develops faith. I don’t believe that God tests us - intentionally making things difficult just to see if we are ready. No, I believe the God of Love allows the circumstances we are encountering to develop us, mold us, modify our reactions so that we can learn, grow, evolve, and transform into something stronger and more capable than we ever thought possible. Part of waiting is to become more faith-filled, more ready to face what lies ahead.
Third, waiting gives us time to make sure that what we are about to do is aligned with God’s goodness. Are our intentions pure and inspired by love, compassion, humility, and empathy, or with vengeance, spite, pride, and anger? By waiting on Spirit’s nudge, we can be sure that it is not our cleverness that is prompting our actions. We are told not to trust in our ways or lean on our own understanding, but on God's. Waiting purifies our motives because in the long hours while we wait, our pride crumbles and we realize that everything depends on God.
Fourth, waiting opens our hearts to gratitude. If things came easily all the time, we would not learn patience, and we would not learn to envision, wait, trust, and be thankful for the results.
And last of all, I think God asks us to wait because He is God and we are not. All things are possible with God, and not of our own doing. We often want to jump in to get busy “doing something, even if it is wrong”. We are often impulsive and capricious in our responses.
Psychologists say that people with high Emotional Quotients display some common attributes. Here are just two that we may identify in ourselves when we are acting with Emotional Intelligence: we pause before we speak or act, thus refraining from making a permanent decision based upon a temporary emotion. We strive to control our thoughts and emotional reactions. In this way we avoid being enslaved by them, live more harmoniously with our values, and avoid a premature ranting loss of control.
Patience is not an unfair delay or stalling of aspirations, but a re-attuning of intuition and guidance from Spirit; it is a release valve for exasperation. To our deficit, we have become accustomed to instantaneous results and immediate satisfaction. Frustration and intolerance are triggered by delayed gratification. But with patience as a fruit of Spirit, we can step back, pause, and regroup, resisting the tendency to act aggressively or giving up on someone or a situation that is aggravating us. Patience gives us a much-needed breath in order to refresh and release.
Patience is an active state of choosing to hold, wait, and pause, until Christ taps our shoulder to move forward. Divine intuition intelligently informs patience. This gentle guidance by God conveys when the timing is right, when to have it, and whether something is worth working on or waiting for. Divine Patience means to wait our turn, knowing full well, and having faith, that our turn will come.
Frustration results from focusing on the externals, the world and its trappings. Yet patience is a drawing inward, toward great wisdom and peace. Patience does not make us a doormat emotionally, but strengthens us, and allows us to intuitively grasp a larger and more loving view of what is appropriate and productive behavior.
In order to develop more patience, we can knowingly face the situations that tempt our impatient reactions. Find a long line, pause for a moment in order to align with Spirit, and then deliberately place our self into the situation. As practice, we can endure this easily, by telling ourselves, “I am going to wait peacefully and enjoy this pause in life.” Instead of getting irritated or pushy, we simply take a breath and reaffirm our intention of waiting peacefully and calmly. During this time, we make a point of smiling placidly at the cashier and others around us. We may share a few nice words with the beleaguered participants in the line, always maintaining our composure, knowing that we have chosen this situation, and we are rising above our typical reactions. We use this time to daydream, taking a mental vacation from our other obligations and stresses of our day.
This is a sacred training ground. As we gain faith and confidence in our developing patience, as we find ourselves unintentionally caught in time-wasting situations, we can draw on our feelings and thoughts from our training sessions and apply them in a peaceful loving fashion to all our encounters. Gradually, our responses and reactions to difficult situations are modified, and we maintain a peaceful attitude no matter where we are. Practicing patience will help us dissipate stress and give us a choice about how we respond to disappointment and frustration. When we can stay calm, centered, and not act rashly out of frustration, all areas of our life will improve.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: "Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience." Faith and the practice of being present in the moment are the foundations of patience; they are what establish our pace. We cannot rush the cycle of seasons, the development of a baby, the hands on a clock, or the growth of a redwood. The “Scurry Syndrome” adds not a moment to our lives. In fact, just the opposite. Maintaining a calm demeanor allows divine life to flow through us unimpaired. If we feel impatient, we can take deep breaths and remember that only we can adjust how we react in this moment.
My prayer is that we will affirm and acknowledge that things will work out in divine order even if the results do not occur within our preferred time frame. With faith, we exhibit the power of patience in every situation. As Ephesians 4:2-3 teaches: Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of Spirit through the bond of peace.