I wanted to share a little story with you about patience. A teacher…
was helping one of her kindergarten students put his boots on? He asked for help and she could see why. With her pulling and him pushing, the boots still didn't want to go on. By the time she got the second boot on, she had worked up a sweat.
She almost whimpered when the little boy said, "Teacher, they're on the wrong feet." She looked and sure enough, they were. It wasn't any easier pulling the boots off than it was putting them on. She managed to keep her cool as they worked together to get the boots back on -- this time on the right feet.
He then announced, "These aren't my boots." She bit her tongue rather than get right in his face and scream, "Why didn't you say so?" like she wanted to. Once again she struggled to help him pull the ill-fitting boots off.
He then said, "They're my brother's boots. My Mom made me wear them." She didn't know if she should laugh or cry. She mustered up the grace to wrestle the boots on his feet again.
She said, "Now, where are your mittens?" He said, "I stuffed them in the toes of my boots ..."[i]
Now, maybe you’re not a teacher, but I can bet you’ve felt the same way! Sometimes patience can be difficult, when you’re doing everything you can to accomplish something, and things keep happening to ruin your day. Or, patience can be hard to come by when you’re waiting on something good that never seems to come. Like that half-hour pizza delivery that’s too slow. But if we’re that impatient our solution becomes the Little Caesar’s hot-and-ready pizza, and what you gain in instant gratification, you sacrifice in quality.
The Bible has a lot to say about patience. In the Old Testament, God’s people had to wander in the wilderness forty years to make the full 822 miles from the Red Sea to Jericho. Believe me—they learned patience! In the New Testament, Jesus talked about the wise man building his house on a rock, which apparently takes longer than building on sand, or maybe rocky property costs more money, which means he had to save longer. According to one website, “the saying – ‘patience is a virtue’ comes from the poem called Piers Plowman, created in 1360 – 1387. The original author of the quote is William Langland.”[ii] That expression is as true today as it was then—as are the Bible’s bits of advice about patience.
The book of Proverbs says a lot about patience in the way we run our mouths. Did you ever know someone who talks a lot, just to show how smart they are? Proverbs 17:27 says, “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.[iii]” Generally, it’s the person who talks the least, who knows the most—but a lot of people don’t seem to grasp that fact. How do you think a smart person gets to be smart? By listening. By being quiet. Proverbs 18:13 says, “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.” Lately, I’ve been trying to be a better question-asker, and a better listener. I hope it makes me a better person, and that it helps me to care for what others have to say more than I care about expressing my own opinion.
Sometimes you realize you’ve been impatient when you’re in an argument, and you say just what you’re thinking, way too quickly. Proverbs 29:11 says, “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.” Sometimes it’s best, just to bite your tongue and not say what you’re thinking, if you know that your words would bring pain. Don’t tell your wife what you think of her mother. Just be patient. Breathe. Step away and come back to finish the discussion later when you’re more clear-headed.
Proverbs warns not to be too quick to speak, even if it’s something good or helpful that you’re saying. Lots of people have made vows to God. Like, “God, if you let me win the lottery, I’ll give half the winnings to you.” Or, “God, if you let this airplane land safely, I promise I’ll give up drinking.” But Proverbs 20:25 says, “It is a trap to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider one’s vows.” Jesus said it’s better not to make vows at all, but just let your “yes” be “yes,” and your “no” be “no.”[iv] Speaking too quickly can get you in trouble.
Proverbs advises patience, not just in what we say, but in what we do. We’re an Amazon Prime kind of generation, where we expect to buy with one click, and have it show up on our doorstep, delivered by a drone, in twenty-four hours. The problem with our instant gratification is that we often don’t take the time to make sure we’re making wise purchases. Then, when the box arrives, we have to acquaint ourselves with the return policy. Proverbs 19:2 says, “Desire without knowledge is not good—how much more will hasty feet miss the way!” Or, like the teenage couple that is so “in love” that they don’t wait before having sex, only to regret it later. Hasty feet miss the way—and in many cases the result is something for which there’s no return policy.
It’s been said that pride is the father of all sins; If that’s true, impatience is the mother. Pride says, “You’re the most important, so you deserve it!” Impatience says, “Not only do you deserve it, but you can have it now!” Put these two together, and you have a whole family tree of sins that follows suit. This could be the woman who has taken to excessive gambling because she can’t wait to grow her fortune by investing or saving wisely. Or it could be the man who can’t wait for his marriage to improve, so he looks outside of it for comfort. It might be the person who chooses the immediate gratification of that donut over the patience it takes to gain a healthy lifestyle. Together, Pride and Impatience can have lots of babies—but humility and patience put a stop to these two ever meeting, marrying, and making babies. In Psychology Today, Dr. Judith Orloff writes about practicing patience:
To turn the tables on frustration, find a long, slow-moving line to wait in. Perhaps in the grocery store, bank, post office. Or if you’re renewing your driver’s license, dare to take on the mother of all lines in the DMV. But here’s the switch: Instead of getting irritated or pushy, which taxes your system with a rush of stress hormones, take a breath. Tell yourself, “I’m going to wait peacefully and enjoy the pause.” Meanwhile, try to empathize with the overwrought cashier or government employee. Smile and say a few nice words to the other beleaguered people in line. Use the time to daydream; take a vacation from work or other obligations. Notice the stress release you feel, how your body relaxes. Lines are an excellent testing ground for patience. To strengthen this asset, I highly recommend standing in as many as possible.
Practicing patience will help you dissipate stress and give you a choice about how you respond to disappointment and frustration. When you can stay calm, centered and not act rashly out of frustration, all areas of your life will improve.[v]
[i] . September 18, 2018.
[ii] . September 18, 2018.
[iii] Scripture quotations are taken from the NIV.
[iv] Matthew 5:37.
[v] Judith Orloff, M.D. “The Power of Patience: The importance of patience as a coping skill and how to achieve it.” Psychology Today. Posted Sep 18, 2012 . September 18, 2018.