I meet with and talk with a lot of people and one thing I don’t think I have ever heard is someone say they are really good at being patient. Not many people list that as a strength, most often it’s listed as a weakness. The meaning of the word patience is quiet, steady perseverance; even-tempered care; diligence. It’s an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay. Calmness, stability, and persistent courage in trying circumstances. Does that describe me? How about you?
Have you heard or made this comment: “Be careful when you pray for patience, because you might be tested.” It’s almost like we are afraid to ask God for patience, because then we may be put into a position to have to actually be patient. So why is it so hard for most people to be patient? Why is this this virtue such a challenge to the majority of people.
Some of it stems from living in an instant gratification culture. We have access to almost anything through our computers and phones, from emails to movie tickets. I have seen people nearly go ballistic if they have to wait in line for more than a few minutes. When looking to check-out at Walmart we work hard at finding the quickest line and when the line beside us goes faster, we get angry. This mindset of getting things instantly has a dark side to it. It affects our emotional intelligence and spiritual maturity. The capacity to wait – trading a temporary delight for a more substantial success later- is a core component of emotional intelligence and spiritual maturity.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord. Psalms 27:14
If we have a hard time waiting, we tend to act like children and throw a temper tantrum to get what we want. Studies at Columbia University measured 4 year old’s ability to resist candy, then followed up more than a decade later. Kids who could wait only a few seconds for the candy, had SAT scores as teens that averaged 60 points lower than those of the kids who’d had the self-control to resist for 5 minutes or longer. Good things come to those who wait. This is often hard to see in the moment when we really want something. However, going with those first impulses can get us into trouble and into debt.
The good news is that we can all change and everyone can improve in this area of patience. Our brains can be rewired and transformed, so that we actually respond and behave in a different way. This of course takes time and patience with lots of endurance. Here are a few suggestions on how to practice and improve our patience:
- Create more space between impulse and action – When hit with that impulse that I must have this or I must buy that, wait for a few hours and see if you still feel that way. Delaying that impulse often leads to better more sound decisions, health and relationships. Maybe the impulse is to say something to your spouse to defend yourself or attack his behavior, hold those words in and wait. Think through how those words could be received and how they could do more damage. Maybe it’s a purchase of something beyond the budget. The power to walk away will begin to rewire the brain and help change the finances.
- Plan on Waiting – If we plan ahead for when we have to wait, it can be a huge shift in perspective. When waiting in traffic, use that time to breath deeply and pray. The deep belly breathing is a proven stress reliever and prayer has a way of shifting our focus to the right things. Also, listening to a podcast or worship music can be a great way to use the time while you wait. When you plan on waiting, those long waits can become little retreats.
- Plan Ahead – Allow more time, not less, to get to places; don’t leave important tasks to the last minute; resist doing one more thing before leaving the office or home, which causes us to be anxious, and often late, even before starting out. The more we can plan ahead, the less impatient we will be when delayed.
- Practice saying No – Our lives are too busy because we take on too much. Simplifying our lives can dramatically improve our patience. Most of the things we are doing or involved in are good things, but too much is too much. Start by listing out the most important things in your life. What other things are distracting you from the most important? When we are able to say no to some things we are able excel in others.
- Don’t try to change other people – The harder we try to change the other person the worse the relationship becomes. Being patient with other people takes a shift from trying to figure out how to change them, to trying to figure out how to love and serve them. Our patience level goes way up when we approach other people with a mindset to serve them and love them instead of change them. That way when they don’t behave like we think they should it’s much easier to just keep serving and loving. It’s not our job to fix other people or the world, it’s our job to work on ourselves.
- Understand why some things push your buttons – We all have hot buttons, those things that set us off and lead us into impatience and other emotions. When we fully understand why certain things set us off, then we can learn new ways of responding when those buttons get pushed. Our response after that button is pushed is what leads to conflict, anger, impatience and immaturity. Our buttons are based on core fears we all have. Things like fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of being misunderstood or unheard, fear of being inadequate, judged or cheated. Fears like that cause us to respond is some whacked out ways. Some self discovery here can help you in all your relationships and be more patient with others and yourself.
- Be Flexible – We get most impatient when our plans are messed up. When our schedule does not work out or something or someone blocks our goal. When those unexpected things come up, take it as a learning experience and an opportunity to grow. Maybe that person was brought into your life in that moment to help you grow more mature. When we are so rigid in our goals and schedule it causes us to be very impatient with anyone that gets in the way. We live in a fallen broken world with fallen broken people. Expect roadblocks and distractions, and be prepared to adjust the best laid plans as necessary.
- Include God – On our own we will fail miserably in becoming more patient. Asking God to help us in this area is the best thing any of us can do. The more we talk to God about patience and other areas we need help in, the more He shapes and molds us. When we plug into God, anything is possible.
- Finally, keep being persistent in your prayers even if God doesn’t seem to be answering. God does hear your prayers and is working in many ways that you do not see. Trust Him and His timing and keep doing your part of working on yourself and praying for others and the circumstances around you.