While Joe was out fishing one day, he spotted an old man observing him from a distance. As the hours went by, the man continued to sit there and watch. As Joe was leaving, he approached the old man and said, “I couldn’t help noticing that you were watching me fish all day.” The man replied, “Well, you see, I used to fish myself years ago, but I gave it up ‘cause I just ain’t got the patience.”
For many of us, patience is one of the hardest virtues to practice. We want to be more patient, but in this age of “instant everything,” waiting for anything seems a waste of time. Being patient is something I struggle with on a daily basis. I usually find it relatively easy to be patient when dealing with clients, working with animals, or when writing, doing artwork or other enjoyable pursuits, even when they sometimes prove difficult. But it is often much harder for me to be patient with other drivers, at home, and with the people closest to me, when the tedium and annoyances of familiarity and the daily routine grate on my nerves and make me irritable and “snappish.”
Impatience can damage our relationships with other people. It can even affect our relationship with God, implying a lack of trust that God will do what’s best for us. We want what we want when we want it. But the fact is, our idea of good timing is often not good at all. God knows this and gives us things as He sees fit, so that we won’t fall into disastrous situations.
Being impatient is like trying to swim against a riptide. By struggling against it, you eventually become tired, get pulled under, and drown. But if you swim parallel to the shore, you can escape the riptide’s pull and then head back to land. It’s the same with life: if we constantly fight the tide of trouble or stagnation, we get dragged down by defeat and despair. But by steadily going on with our lives, keeping our goals in sight but not struggling against fate to reach them, we eventually succeed.
Floating on your back conserves your energy when you are swimming. In the same way, when we feel overwhelmed by life, we can just float in God’s love for a while and let Him carry us through the rough places. At some point we must resume swimming — but this time we will have our strength restored and feel more confident of reaching our destination.
Patience, which Christians believe is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, must be nurtured in order to grow healthy and strong. How to become more patient? Here are some suggestions:
- Put your life in perspective. What is urgent to you right this moment might not seem so important a few weeks, months or years from now. Remember how often during your life God’s timetable turned out to be the right one, even though at the time you felt frustrated or disappointed. Jesus gave us a perfect example when He said, “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will care for itself.” (Matt. 6:34). In the Lord’s Prayer, Christians say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” There is no mention of tomorrow. God clearly wants us to take one day at a time. Learn to focus only on the task at hand, the person with you, the most immediate problem — and let go of the rest.
- Be realistic about the time it takes to attain your goals. In Genesis, we read that Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, and then endured years in prison, before finally being promoted to a better life and eventually attaining greatness. Jesus spent about 30 years in preparation before beginning his public ministry. He knew that to rush into it would go against God’s plan and perhaps jeopardize his great mission. Place your goals in God’s hands and ask Him to help you achieve them, if they are pleasing to him and beneficial to your soul. Then patiently trust and accept His timetable. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” (Jer. 29:11)
Image courtesy of anankkml at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
- Develop a spirit of love in dealing with others. The sort of love we’re referring to here is “agape” love, which is charity, not romantic love or affection. We are not going to necessarily like and be good friends with everyone we meet, but we can still exercise charity towards them. When you are tempted to be impatient with someone, before you react take a few seconds to silently ask God for help. Remember that this person is a child of God, just like you, and think about how God would want you to respond. Christians need to strive to develop “the mind of Christ” and consider how Christ dealt with the endless demands people made on him, and the opposition he encountered, during his time on earth. If you are not Christian, aspire to the highest ideal of your particular faith. By exercising constant vigilance, eventually we will find ourselves becoming more patient and charitable in our relationships with others. All the great religions emphasize love towards others as being essential to spiritual development. St. Paul considered it the most important virtue: “There are three things that will endure—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:13).
- Take care of yourself. Excessive stress can make us irritable, depressed and impatient. Evaluate your life to see what activities or responsibilities you can delegate or eliminate entirely. In this age of electronic devices, we risk the danger of never allowing ourselves any down-time. This causes tremendous stress, whether or not we realize it. Proper nutrition, exercise and adequate rest are essential to good health and feelings of well-being. When you feel good physically, you have a better outlook on life, and patience comes more easily.
- Pray and meditate. Set aside some time every day just for yourself and God. Every morning, surrender the day to God. Ask for His guidance in making the best use of your time. Find a meditation technique you like and practice it daily, even if only for a few minutes. It will quiet your mind, better attune you to God’s guidance, and make a tremendous difference in how calmly you handle life’s ups-and-downs.
- Practice “mental rehearsals.” At bedtime, review your day and how well you dealt with the people and situations you encountered. Give yourself a pat on the back for the times you reacted to trying people or circumstances in a calmer and more loving way. Note the situations in which you could have done better. Don’t beat yourself up over it; just replay the scene in your mind and visualize a better outcome. The next time a similar situation arises, you will find yourself reacting in a more positive way because of this mental “rehearsal.” Remember, if you ask God to make you more patient, He probably will be sending you more opportunities to practice. Mental rehearsals can help you to be ready for the challenge!
- Be patient with yourself. Unless you are a naturally patient person (and not many of us are!), it will take a while to develop this virtue. In the words of St. Francis de Sales: “Be patient with everyone, but of all above all with thyself. I mean, do not be disheartened by your imperfections but always rise up with fresh courage.”
A Prayer for Patience
Dear God, You said, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Please help me to trust in Your plans for my life and to be patient enough to know that it all will happen in Your good time. Give me patience to deal with the problems and irritations I will face today, and help me to be compassionate, understanding and kind to the people I encounter. Create in me a spirit of gratitude, so that I may become more aware of the many blessings You have given me, and more accepting of the troubles and trials that are an inevitable part of human life. Help me also to be patient with my own limitations, and to take proper care of myself, so that I can fulfill the potential that You see in me. Amen.