When patience is the virtue you wish you had
It was about two weeks into lock down. I was walking into a supermarket. I noticed something I hadn’t seen for a long time. People had toilet paper in their shopping trolleys!! I was hopeful. I made a beeline for the toilet paper aisle. I got there and saw the aisle had been picked clean. So frustrating! I then spent the rest of my shop eyeing off toilet paper in shopping trolleys. At one point I was even tempted to lift some from an unguarded trolley. I have never thought of stealing toilet paper before. I started to worry about how I would source toilet paper. Maybe I’d have to send my 70 plus year old dad out to shop in that special senior’s hour.
Speaking of my dad, I remember years ago telling him I was a rather patient person. He just laughed and laughed and laughed. I thought: “Oh ha-ha”. And that was the end of the conversation. But if that toilet paper episode is anything to go by, then maybe I’ve always had a problem when it comes to patience.
These days, even the Government is telling us to be patient. I had to look up what patience actually is. It’s a familiar word just hard to define. The online Google dictionary was an eye-opener: “Patience is the capacity to accept or tolerate delays, problems or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious”. Patience in a pandemic is so what we need right now.
If patience is in demand, then surely everyone will be talking about it. There’s bound to be a “Three Top Tips For Making Patience Your Virtue” that someone like me can access - too easy! So I did some research, but came up empty-handed. Patience is the hot topic that no one is actually talking about. Interesting.
I’ll talk. The first thing that comes to mind is how patience and outcomes are tied together. In other words, I’m more patient when I can see something good is on the horizon.
Since I’m currently working from home, and it’s autumn, I’ve been embracing slow-cooking. For 4-5 hours there are mouth-watering smells emanating from my oven. Distracting – but pleasurable. I know the wait will be worth it, when the meat just falls off the bone.
I think this is one of the reasons why I initially found lockdown so hard. There was no guarantee these measures would work, or how long they would take. We’re now 4 or 5 weeks into lockdown (they do tend to blur). It feels different now. Not because I’ve relaxed into new routines. It’s because infection rates are declining. The future looks more certain. Lockdown is working. It will end. I can see something good is on the horizon.
Secondly, I can see patience and control are linked. I’m more patient when things are working out exactly as I would like (I’ll be honest here!).
Last weekend I had a social-distance visit to my parents. I was on a tight timeframe as a friend and I planned to live-stream an interview with a famous chef. Driving down a one-lane road, the car in front was going under the speed limit for no apparent reason. Time, which I had so carefully tried to manage, was now out of my control. I rolled my eyes in frustration.
I think that’s why I found the initial weeks of social distancing – social isolation – and then lockdown so challenging. The landscape kept changing, without warning. It was deeply unsettling at time. A slight lift in restrictions begins tomorrow! I feel…elated. I’m thinking about whether or not I’ll have someone over for dinner. Freedom of choice has returned. I now have some control back in a small but significant area of my life.
Thirdly, I sense a connection between patience and pain. I’m more likely to be impatient if that’s the easier road.
I think that’s why this morning I ordered 48 rolls of toilet paper online. Excessive, I know. It was a pure pain avoidance tactic. Super markets are now stocking toilet paper. However I really don’t want a repeat of the toilet paper episode. What if I pick the wrong time to shop and I miss out? Much easier to press: “Buy now”.
A friend the other day was sharing with me how her impatience is driven by a fear of missing out – which is why she sometimes finds her partner’s patience frustrating. I get that. She also gave me this really great insight: patience isn’t exercised when you don’t care about something. Patience is exercised when you do care deeply about something. It’s the fear of missing out on something we care about while we wait that drives us to act – in other words, express our impatience.
Outcomes. Control. Pain. If there was ever going to be a: “Three Top Tips For Making Patience My Virtue”, then the place to start is with a change in perspective. Because right now, I do need to live with an uncertain future that to a large degree is out of my control, and may involve pain. For I don’t know what life will be like after the coronavirus – no one does. “The Project” on Channel 10 spent this week giving us a vision but even they acknowledged it’s all guesswork.
How can I be more patient when the future is uncertain? I’ve been thinking about how I should pull back from being so obsessively future focused. I need to give a bit more attention to the now. As someone once said: “It’s not about what you get at the end of the wait, it’s about what you become as you wait”.
And so as I wait for the end of social distancing, I’m thankful for what this period of isolation is teaching me. I’m becoming someone who values things differently. What am I looking forward to when this is over? – Something that I used to take for granted: a big bear hug from my dad.
As a follower of Jesus, in theory I should never have a problem with patience. Jesus says: “Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” [John 6:35]. Jesus is talking about an eternal Future that he will provide where I will experience complete satisfaction. No need for patience there, because there will be no delays, problems or suffering to make me anxious or annoyed.
This is the Future behind the future, which if I keep focused on, should enable me to live well with uncertainty in this world. The future is not bleak. Waiting means something good is coming – probably in this world because God is generous, but definitely in the next.
I say – in theory. The practice has been a challenge. I’ve only shared my patience struggles with toilet paper. Believe me, there have been many, many more. I’ve struggled whenever I’ve taken one eye off the Future, and made it all about the future. When I’ve done that, I have nothing to ground me when the future is uncertain, out of my control or potentially painful. I give into impatience.
I’m so thankful that my Future isn’t based on a performance test. All I need to do is keep coming to Jesus, keep believing in his promises, and he does the rest.
Perhaps this is why patience is the hot topic that no one is talking about. Without God in the picture – without a benevolent divine being offering a good future – we have lost a powerful incentive to be patient. I’m not saying only followers of Jesus can be patient – that is definitely not the case – but they do have an extra motivation.
In Western society on the whole we’ve effectively placed God to one side. Our society runs more and more on impatience. On-line shopping delivery updates. Binge-watching Netflix. Afterpay. When the Government calls us to be patient, there are some aspects of our lives where we just haven’t had much practice.
In the West we do have a role for perseverance though (or “thriving” which is the positive spin). As a friend pointed out to me: patience has the perception of passivity while perseverance has the perception of activism. Being able to act taps into our desire for control and thus makes perseverance popular. Patience on the other hand involves the recognition that some things are out of our control and we must wait…not so popular.
Another friend was telling me about her wait for some medical test results to confirm whether she had cancer or not. She too is a follower of Jesus. She said waiting was the hardest thing she’s ever done. Imagining she might not be around to see her children grow up. Questioning what God was doing in all of this. Deciding that even if the future was not the one she wanted or dreamed of, her eternal Future was secure. That helped her to wait, well.
I found that conversation incredibly humbling. My friend and I are both facing uncertainties. I’ve had a life-altering corona virus experience but my life hasn’t been at risk like hers. Still, I want to take to heart the lessons I’ve learned with toilet paper. I will not live forever. I want to live with one eye on that eternal Future, whatever happens. This is my: “One Tip For Making Patience My Virtue”.