What does growing patience look like?
In Proverbs 19:11 we read that “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.” Patience is rooted in wisdom. Proverbs are illustrations of what is a wise course of action almost all the time. There will be exceptions to the rule when it would be unwise to be patient. To perform CPR. To pull a baby away from touching fire. To make a business deal that is time-sensitive. But for the most part, it is wise to wait, to give time for evaluation, to ask questions, learn more. “Be quick to listen, slow to speak,” wrote James, the brother of Jesus.
If you’re the new kid on the block, maybe at a new school, a new job, a new sports team, patience means taking time to get to know your new surroundings, and especially to get to know the people involved. Patience means having a humble, teachable heart so that you don’t come in like a hurricane, thinking you know it all. Instead, if you see something that seems nonsensical, and you think you have a better way of doing things, stop yourself. Keep your mouth shut. Listen. More than likely, just by patiently listening, the question will be answered for you in time as you learn more. But if not, then formulate a question. Patience avoids accusation and judgment, but instead, patience asks, “Why do you do it that way?”
Likewise in Proverbs 25:15 we learn that “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.” Or consider Ecclesiastes 7:8, “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.” Patience is waiting. But not just any waiting. Patience is a certain kind of waiting. You can lock up a person in chains and force them to wait against their will. They might not be too thrilled about that, and we wouldn’t be surprised if they rebelled against this imposition. They would try to free themselves. They don’t want to wait in chains. They are impatient.
Godly patience, however, is influenced by the other qualities in the list of the Fruit of the Spirit. It involves, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness and self-control. Patience submits to God, saying honestly, “I don’t want to wait. I don’t like to wait. I would much rather be done with the waiting. But I give myself to you in the waiting. Help me wait like you want me to wait.”
Tom Petty once sang, “Waiting is the hardest part.” It’s true. If we’re waiting on information, we want to know that information fast. I remember being a teenager thinking that it was taking forever for me to turn 16. Then I remember dating and being engaged thinking that our wedding day, 8 months from then, was so far away. When I started my doctoral degree in September 2018, the thought of taking 10 courses, passing comprehensive exams, and especially writing a dissertation seemed an impossible mountain. Waiting is difficult.
When you are in the middle of a challenging time, you are waiting, you’re living in what is called in the liminal space. Liminal space is not the before or after, but the middle. You don’t know when things will change. You don’t know when the pain will end. You don’t know how long you will be alone. You don’t know how you will pay the bills. You don’t have a diagnosis. You are waiting.
In the waiting, God calls us to walk in step with the Spirit and be filled with his patience. It is a gracious patience. It is a kind patience. It is a loving patience. It is a self-controlled patience. It is a joyful patience.