The practice of patience toward one another, the overlooking of one another’s defects, and the bearing of one another’s burdens is the most elementary condition of all human and social activity in the family, in the professions, and in society.“
Lawrence Lovesik, Catholic Priest
“….with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Ephesians 4: 2-3
We all appreciate being treated patiently. Patience- or long-suffering- is not only a fruit of the spirit but a developed virtue – actually one of amazing strength. It allows one to see past emotions that can blind. It’s is a matter of the heart that renders one unable to accuse nor find room for offense. Patience brings about gentleness and kindness and prevents many sorrows. Certainly “a lack of patience in small matters can create havoc in great ones” (Chinese Proverb).
The opposite of being patient is to be frustrated or agitated. Impatient. It’s a form of subtle anger. We all know the feeling, which rises up with little warning, and can quickly morph into fits of anger and harshness.
I used to assume that each person was born either a patient or a not-so-patient person. I considered myself in the later camp and thus avoided feeling wholly responsible for my impatient actions. However, the Bible teaches that patience – or impatience – is far more than merely a personality trait. My level of patience, in fact, says a great deal about me. I cannot acquire biblical patience on my own, yet am responsible to become a patient person. I must receive it from the Holy Spirit to replace what my flesh naturally produces: impatience.
I have quit assuming I have learned the lessons of patience. Rather it’s a lifelong pursuit and one that I am currently getting plenty of opportunities to practice. I spend time each month in very different “worlds” – that of my 85 year old mom & autistic, disabled brother, and that of my school & home which regularly includes my young grandchildren.
While these “worlds” are very different, they each require a steady stream of PATIENT, active attention to the needs of others.
I think back to this past week with my mom.
At times, I found my patience growing thin at having to repeatedly say the same things – of being asked the same questions over and over – of devoting significant time to helping her find misplaced items. Just like with my grand kids! Just now, as I write this blog, my sweet mother has called to ask the very questions that had already been answered over and over during my recent visit – once again it’s patient attentiveness that she needs from me, despite how I feel about the interruption to my schedule!
One day last week, a glass slipped from her arthritic hands and shattered in the kitchen sink. I watch in dismay as tiny pieces of glass filled the plastic lip lining the entrance to the garbage disposal. Just like a child, she drew back, embarrassed and somewhat anxious over the mess she had created. Reluctantly I put down the work I was engrossed in and began the task of picking out glass pieces that had fallen into the sink and disposal (which was also full of smelly food). I managed to patiently clean up the mess and as a result mom regained her equilibrium. Just like my grand kids, she desires to be independent – yet she clearly needs help and support to navigate her life.
The seasons of life are so very short. Infants soon become school age children who before your eyes become teens and go off to college- who suddenly enter into careers/ get married – then have their own kids. Through all the rapidly passing cycles of life, we are walking out ministry, called to serve each other patiently and faithfully. Whatever our calling or the cycle of life we are in – it will require patience and attentiveness to others.
I think a great deal about my mom in this final season of her life. I wonder how my strong spirited and rather impatient mother (I come by this naturally) has become so joyful and patient at 85. Her life has not been easy – she is still saddled with the pressures of motherhood even as a widow, having to care for her 48 year old son who remain a child. “He’s a good boy” she says repeatedly when referring to him.
Then I realize it is because of – as a result of these sacrifices – that she has become more Christ-like.
She has grown patient and joyful because she has always had to live beyond herself, sacrificially giving of her time and attention. She has never quit serving- never experienced ease in retirement- thus she never quit growing. She has learned that the desires of her heart are met not in receiving but in faithfully and patiently giving to others. Now she needs me to serve her – she needs me to be patient and attentive to her needs- to respond kindly and compassionately to her struggles. She needs what I needed from her as a child – what my children needed from me when they were young – what their children now need from them.
A patient life perhaps is the truest evidence of a life most conformed to Christ’s image.“We do not go far with any fellow-traveler on the journey of life, before we find there is great occasion for it’s exercise,” wrote Albert Barnes in Notes on the Bible.
“Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake. “