How We Practice Patience
If we stop and think for a moment, we could likely catalog all of the times in a day, a week, a month, maybe even a year, that someone’s response to our behavior was “Patience is a virtue.” And while it’s a nice reminder when we honk as the light turns green, heave a sign in a grocery line that doesn’t seem to get shorter, wait for a promotion, or even wait for someone to get back to us, it doesn’t help. It’s not as if we can be patient, but what if it didn’t have to be a challenge? What would life look like if we could actually practice patience?
Wendell Berry writes that there is a powerful difference between a road and a path. A road, he writes, is design for haste. We pave and plow through the existing world to get us where we want to be with little concern for the landscape. In contrast, a path, through habit, becomes a way for us to travel that winds through and considers the landscape. In this way, there is no road to patience, only a path. Let’s go for a walk.
- What Does Patience Mean?
- What Does the Bible Say About Patience?
- Why is Patience Important?
- How to Practice Patience
What Does Patience Mean?
One of the great things about patience is that while there is a standard definition, there isn’t a standard for what requires us, as individuals, to practice patience. Patience is about our ability to withstand, often with grace, the situations and sometimes people who challenge us.
We may be challenged by people or situations that annoy or delay us or even those that prevent us from getting our needs or wants immediately met. Sometimes, we may even irk ourselves to the point of being impatient with ourselves such as when we don’t excel at a new task or skill as quickly as we like or cannot figure out a puzzle. We grow impatient.
Patience is our ability to meet that with calm, to not get frustrated or angry. Patience, in that way, is about accepting the world as it is, at that moment, and looking at it without judgment or expectation.
What Does the Bible Say About Patience?
From Romans and Ephesians to Timothy and Hebrews, the Bible has no shortage of stories, advice, and guidance on patience. Without detailing every time patience is mentioned in the Bible, we can certainly take a minute to note some of the key takeaways such as:
- God is patient with us.
- We should, similarly, exercise patience with others.
- Patience comes from wisdom and experience.
- Patience also leads to wisdom and experience.
- Love is patient and we should be patient with it.
- When waiting on God, or the universe, or something we pray for, patience is essential.
- Patience and self-control are more powerful (and productive) than brute force.
- Patience is a fruit of the spirit (so you should work toward “harvesting” or channeling it).
- Patience is rewarded.
That’s not, of course, by any stretch of the imagination, all the Bible has to say about patience, but captures the way patience is balanced between giving and receiving; that patience is one of God’s gifts to use and practicing it is, in many ways, an act of practicing gratitude.
Why is Patience Important?
In our everyday lives, we likely see the ways patience is important, with our family, our friends, our coworkers, and others in our community, so we’ll get to that in a moment. Let’s start with why God thinks patience is important, for us to both learn and practice patience.
We often say something is testing or trying our patience. These are gifts. God is trying to teach us to slow down, to trust, to appreciate, and to be present in experiences. Patience allows us not to behave as the proverbial bull in the china shop and instead be thoughtful in our actions and deeds.
Our actions, not our words, are where we see patience in action. As the saying goes, if we are something, we do not need to tell others it is who we are. For example, the phrase “I’m waiting,” does not evoke patience, but holding the door, while someone who needs more time and assistance entering a building approaches, may convey patience. And, our actions are how we show up for people in our lives, how we demonstrate community and commitment. To show up with patience is to show up with love and this is what God asks us to do.
As for our families, friends, coworkers, and even selves, patience is important because much like it fosters and nurtures our relationship with God by building trust, it does the same with the people in our lives.
Think back, if you can, to a time when a lack of patience disrupted your ability to make a connection with someone. Then, think back to a time when patience was what helped you build a connection with someone. Our ability to practice patience and slow down with the people we love and care about, even ourselves, is what deepens our connections and relationships.
Patience is, in large part, about presence. We are often impatient when we are thinking about what comes next rather than appreciating where we are, and who we are with. Practicing patience is love in action.
How to Practice Patience
Given its importance in building relationships, and given the understanding that patience is something that must be practiced, it’s natural to wonder how one can build this “muscle” or skill. How does one practice patience? How do we become more patient with God, ourselves, and with our friends, family, and community?
It is easy to say patience improves with mindfulness, but what does that look like in the moment? It’s partially about being aware of how we’re feeling and understanding that even difficult moments are gifts to us. They are an opportunity to practice patience.
To start, focus on the moment. Often, impatience is borne of our desire to be in the future, to rush to the end result or hasten the moment, whatever it may be. Focusing on the moment allows us to remember where we are, why we are there, who we are with, and why those things are important to us.
If you are still struggling, consider stepping away from the challenge for a moment. Count. Breathe. Focus on something else for a minute or two and then go back. Even when exercising, rest breaks allow us to do more, to push and improve. Consider patience a muscle that will grow as you work and rest it.
While those strategies work for an immediate need to practice patience, many of us struggle with patience over the long term. Waiting for something we want or hope for can be difficult, especially when our focus is on the …you guessed it, the future. When it comes to practicing patience in the long term, focusing on the present moment is still important, but other strategies exist as well.
When practicing patience over the long term, prayer and meditation are good tools to help you focus on the present moment as well as the feelings you have around the thing you are waiting for. Why is it testing your patience? What is so valuable about this situation or item that you are willing to devote your time and energy to it rather than to your present moment?
It’s important to remember that being impatient is, in part, about your focus and your energy. When we are impatient, we are hyper focused on the thing we desire and are not, therefore, present with the people and situations that currently exist. We are missing out, as are the people around us. Patience is about presence. Where do you want to be? Here and now? Or somewhere in the future that doesn’t exist yet.
Finally, practicing patience is just like any other skill. We may not be good at it, at first. Instead, it takes persistence and perseverance. And, as the Bible says, patience is rewarded. The future will be here soon enough, especially if we slow down, practice patience, and enjoy the present.
We are, all of us, works in progress. Finding a place where we can discuss, learn, and be present with others working on and towards the same goals, like practicing patience, is part of being a community.
If you’re looking for a church community that meets you where you are, physically and spiritually, then we’d love for you to take some time to explore NewChurch Live. Whether you’re simply looking for calm in your day, thoughts to meditate on, people to connect with, or to take a more active role, please reach out. We’re looking forward to hearing from you and getting connected.