To Be Patient Takes Patience

“Hurry the heck up!” I screamed at my cellphone as though I was complaining to an obstinate human. I was casually attempting to Google someone, when the stupid blue circle got stuck as it whirled around for 30 seconds when loading…..way too long. Then, just as I was about to christen my phone screen with a hammer, I was blessed with a search result of completely useless information. Argh! Whatever happened to the Yellow Pages phonebook? It would be far less frustrating to use, and you could position it as a doorstop when its phone-duty was no longer needed. Sadly, moments of my precious time have just been hijacked by a (dumb) smartphone. Bah humbug.

Now, before you start judging me for my lack of patience, be honest…haven’t you wished certain people or things wouldn’t waste your time, either? Like, when you’re sitting at a traffic light in a hurry, and the person in front of you accelerates at the speed of a snail? Have you blurted out, while banging your head on the steering wheel, “Okay, mister, could you pedal that tricycle just a little faster!” Or, how about when the food drive-up line isn’t moving, and you wonder if the workers inside are on a siesta? That’s surely when I want to yell, “Hey, I don’t have all day here. Did I interrupt your nap?” What’s really sad is that all of this has taken place before nine o’clock in the morning. It doesn’t bode well for the rest of our important day, does it?

Let’s face it….we’re naturally impatient people at heart. I’m guessing that’s why “patience” is one of the individual virtues mentioned as a fruit of the Spirit in Galations 5:22… because it’s a supernatural gift that comes only from above. It takes a divine move of the Spirit to help us see our need to repent, and to live life with a pattern of patience toward others. We live in an instant world…a place where Father Time isn’t tolerated, i.e. microwave ovens, Keurig coffeemakers, instant delivery, mobile ordering, everything online. (I actually use and enjoy all of these modern conveniences, proving that it doesn’t take a village for people my age to be digitally savvy….all we need is just one grandchild.) Our expectation that things should come to us in seconds just feeds our natural tendency to dislike enduring anything.

However, even though we get out of sorts with inanimate things, we don’t just limit our dislike of waiting as it relates to time-saving activities. Various people try our patience, too. And this is the kind of patience to which Galatians 5 refers. Let’s face it….relationships require a waiting-type of patience due to the fact that no one totally conforms to our idea, or timetable, of how we think life should be done. To be patient requires mercy and meekness on our part. But, we selfishly don’t like having to take the focus off of ourselves, long enough to appreciate others’ shortcomings or differences. It just plain long feels better to plan my life around me.

If we ever want to improve on our willingness and ability to love someone, demonstrated by an attitude of patience, then it would be of benefit to take a look at the subtle difference there may be between being patient and ‘putting up with someone’. I believe the latter to be an attitude that says, “I’ll tolerate you, but underneath my nice smile (and clenched jaw) is an annoyed person who really doesn’t care for your company. ” We actually find ourselves coming into contact with folks who try our patience more often than we think, don’t we?

My husband and I were recently out to eat at a dine-in restaurant. The waitperson annoyed me from the get-go. She had somewhat of a condescending attitude, wore too much make-up, and I didn’t like her shoes. I dunno….she just rubbed me the wrong way from the get-go. I innocently asked her questions in reference to some confusing menu items, and at one point, she said with a snarky tone, “It’s plainly stated right there on the menu; there’s nothing more to be said about it. ” Well, that remark certainly didn’t score any points, and my patience had run out by this time. I silently put up with her for the rest of our meal….annoyed, but civil. However, I was shamefully thinking the whole time, “I can’t get away from you soon enough. Don’t worry, honey….your tip won’t require you to know any higher math.” Whoa! Where did that come from? Sad to say, it came from my evil heart, and she had pushed my be-nice-to-her-performance to its limit.

Have you found yourself attempting to be tolerant with someone who has tried your patience? Have you resolved to engage with them, telling yourself that you’ll agree to their company, but only for a limited time and under certain conditions? Have you heard yourself quietly thinking, “I’ll visit them, but I won’t stay long.” Or, “I’ll go with them, but only if they behave.” Or, “I’ll sit next to them, but I hope they don’t want to talk.” And the one I tell myself is, “I’ll be kind to them, but if I don’t enjoy it, then I’m not going to expose myself to another moment of their company.” Do you see a pattern here? Who’s the primary focus in these examples? Are we really thinking of the other person, or are we trying to manipulate things by thinking, “I’ll do this, as long as you do that.” Fake patience is short-lived and limited. At some point, it WILL break down, and irritation will rear its ugly head. Don’t be fooled…putting up with someone isn’t love. It’s a way of convincing ourselves that we’re doing the right thing by enduring someone’s behavior, while earning potential spiritual brownie points. It’s with a heart that says, “You’d better appreciate this, because I really want to avoid you.” (Pay attention to what you think if you want to see your heart.) Ouch.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s always better to do the right thing. It blesses the other person. It’s commendable if we see our wrong and strive to make it right. However, when the motive springs from a self-focused, self-serving attempt at improved performance, then it really isn’t a heart change. In fact, it will become a law-abiding action that thinks it’s loving, but has more to do with looking good. Change takes more than just, “I’ll resolve to try harder,” because changed behavior says nothing about the fact that we can do the right thing, all the while masking anger, irritation, or annoyance.

Remember, patience is a product of the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word for patience or long-suffering, as it’s listed in the Galatians 5 passage, connotates an attitude of mercy. True patience requires selflessness, and self restraint from getting angry, annoyed, and irritated. It removes an attitude of judgment, and replaces it with mercy. Anger, and it’s related cousins, irritation and annoyance, spring from a goal that has been blocked by something. We get frustrated with certain people because they won’t understand, listen, or agree with us. If you want to see anger in its simplest form, just observe a toddler’s behavior. You don’t have to teach anger. They want….they don’t get…they scream and cry. We’re no different. We want people to be like us, we don’t want to endure them, and we reject them, or engage with them in rage. As believers, we shouldn’t like who we become when we’re impatient. I didn’t like how I was acting or thinking in the restaurant, but it felt too good to be in covert combat. I wanted to win. I was only thinking of me; she had offended my pride, and humility surely had taken leave. Cinderella’s wicked step-mother had nothing on me in that moment.

What does it take to repent of impatience? As stated previously, it takes a heart change. Any other attempt at change will be superficial and limited, proven by reverting back to irritation as soon as the other person does something that gets on your last nerve. A change of heart prompts us to be able to see ourselves more clearly. It should cause us to ask, “Who am I to withhold patience when someone doesn’t act as I think they should?” The same Greek word for “patience” as it’s used in Galatians 5:22, is also used in Roman’s 2:4, “Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance, and patience (long-suffering), not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” Patience will come when we see the other person as worthwhile to love, even in their rebellion or differences, because God has loved us under the same set of circumstances. He has demonstrated great compassion, even though we don’t deserve it. Mercy toward others should flow from us when our pride walks out the door. Following Paul’s listing of Christian character in Galatians 5:22, he says in verse 26, “Let us not become puffed-up (conceited), provoking and envying each other.” It isn’t coincidental that he mentions pride having no place, in a passage that is encouraging us to live by the Spirit.

God hasn’t loved us in patience with an angry spirit. He doesn’t just ‘put up with us’. He actually desires to wholly engage with us. That’s what the Cross is all about. As we begin to see others in totality….meaning not just their personality, or their temperament, or their behavior, but the whole person, who shares our identical falleness, we see that we have more in common than we want to admit.

If our difficult, patience-trying relationship is with an individual who isn’t walking with Christ, they’re only doing what they know and feel. We can’t change them by screaming, yelling, threatening, or rejecting. We can’t change them at all… only a move of the Holy Spirit can grab their attention. So, our challenge is to love with patience, knowing that we can’t expect they’ll change apart from God drawing them. If we believe His timetable, plan, and purposes are always right, then to withhold love from someone is a direct affront to our Creator.

Likewise, as we’re urged to love other believers with patience, remember that we’re more alike than different, held together by a deeper tie in Christ that binds. We all rely on the Holy Spirit to be our guide and change agent. Trust Him to change your heart, and don’t focus on the other person. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at what occurs as a result. If the other person gets off track, steps on your toes, or is just annoying, you may be just the person God has placed in their lives to demonstrate what biblical love looks like…enduring, selfless, and encouraging. Nothing is coincidental in the providence of God.

I challenge you to think differently of others who have typically tried your patience. It’s Turn Around Time for us. I pray our repentant hearts will see them as worth our time to love, despite our differences. One day, we’ll be richly rewarded for our long suffering, as we patiently love those who have been difficult. In an instant, we’ll be with Christ, and our waiting will be over.