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Patience as a Gift We Give

Pat’s daughter Elizabeth was getting ready to take the test to get her driver’s license, but she was having trouble angle parking. He tried to help her, but his lack of patience caused things to end badly. So, he called to ask a favor: would I teach her angle parking?

There are situations when our emotions get in the way. Our frustration flares up, and the situation goes downhill from there. Parenting is tough enough; teaching your teenage daughter to drive can be a white-water parenting experience.

It’s not that I’m such a patient person. I hate lines, fidget in waiting rooms, and curse traffic delays. I doubt I’m any more patient than Pat. The difference was that Elizabeth wasn’t my daughter. So, I had more emotional distance, and that was helpful. Once the emotions were defused, she learned quickly. After one lesson, she had mastered angle parking. That gave her the confidence to pass her driving test.

The Oxford dictionary defines patience as “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.” Waiting for someone who’s late and then resisting the urge to “let the person have it” is an example of this notion of patience. According to the dictionary, similar words include self-restraint, resignation, and being even-tempered.

The scriptural understanding of patience goes far beyond the dictionary’s definition. As Paul so simply states, it is an element of love: “Love is patient, love is kind.” (I Cor. 13:4) The Scriptural notion of patience – the patience infused with love – is a much higher bar than self-restraint. It is an essential aspect of what Paul describes as “a still more excellent way.” (I Cor. 12:31) That way urges us to go far beyond tolerance and being even-tempered in order to give the gift of love-infused patience – to others and to ourselves.

Giving others the gift of love-infused patience requires taking time. During the driving lesson, patience involved giving Elizabeth the time to slowly edge into a parking space between the yellow lines. It included letting her get out of the car to see whether the car was in the right position. Then, it meant letting her try again . . . and again.

Love-infused patience involves giving others the space they need to learn and grow. When my grandson was learning to walk, he would take both of my hands and walk in front of me. After what seemed like being stooped over for miles, I would sit down to rest my back. Still full of enthusiasm, he would say: “Come on, Grandpa, let’s do it again.” The gift of patience created the space for him to try, the room for him to fall, and the opportunity to try again.

Learning anything new requires patience – the time to practice and the space to try again until we begin to get it right. Carla is a retired therapist who sometimes did group work with children. One of the goals was to help them learn to control their emotions in stressful situations – such as losing a game they were playing. When one of them “lost it” in the middle of a game, she would calmly ask the child to sit out for a few minutes. After some time to calm down and the space to regain self-control, she would ask: “Are you ready to try again?” There was no yelling, punishment, shaming, or judgment – just the opportunity to try again.

I find giving the gift of love-infused patience is easier with children. It is much harder for me in professional situations when the stakes seem higher. When I mentor newer consultants, all too often my lack of patience – my inability to give them the time to learn and space to try – can undercut their development. When the two of us are in a client session confronting a serious challenge, my head knows the other consultant needs to struggle to find a solution. All too often, however, my emotions get the best of me. I jump in and come to the rescue. That might make me look good, but it causes the other consultant to miss the chance to try and the opportunity to learn.

It isn’t easy to give the gift of love-infused patience to others. I find, however, that it’s even harder to give that gift to myself.

I have strong perfectionist tendencies, and I set high expectations for myself. When I inevitably fall short of my unrealistic goals, I am quick to be hard on myself. I get frustrated and angry – which unleashes negative emotional energy. If I don’t catch myself, those emotions can digress into self-judgment and self-condemnation. 

Giving ourselves the gift of patience requires allowing ourselves the time to calm down and regain self-control. It involves giving ourselves the opportunity to try again, to practice, and to learn. We don’t need to beat ourselves up, we simply need to keep trying. Sometimes we will get it right; other times we’ll need a do-over. The gift of patience is love-infused; we need to learn to love ourselves enough to give ourselves that gift.

God is the source of love-infused patience, and Jesus is the model of it. Jesus urges us to have the patience necessary to bless the poor in spirit, to appreciate the merciful, and to suffer with those persecuted for the sake of righteousness. He calls us to the love-infused patience necessary to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, and to forgive seventy times seven times. In his final moments, Jesus models the love-infused patience he needs to forgive those who execute him and surrender to his Father.

Gifting others with patience can be as simple as giving Elizabeth the time and space to learn angle parking. It can also be as difficult as loving our enemies and extending forgiveness time and again. Gifting ourselves with patience can be as easy as taking the time to calm down and gather ourselves before we try again. It can also be as hard as forgiving ourselves for not being perfect and resisting the urge to let frustration and anger digress into self-judgment and self-condemnation.

Giving the gift of love-infused patience – to others or to ourselves – is an essential element of Paul’s more excellent way. It calls us to embrace the way of love ever more deeply, to continue to pursue the lifelong spiritual journey, and to surrender to the ongoing process of conversion.

Questions to Ponder

Consider the following questions in pondering the gift of love-infused patience:

  • What is my experience of giving – and receiving – the gift of patience?
  • In what way am I being called to give the gift of patience to others?
  • In what way am I being urged to give myself the gift of patience?
  • Who could I gift with patience – today and in the future?
  • How might I gift myself with patience – today and in the future?