I have chosen to reflect today about an everyday principle: Patience, perhaps the topic was selfishly selected because of my clear and continuing need to develop further this very important attribute. But my interest in patience is not solely personal; for the necessity of having this intriguing attribute is cited several times in the scriptures.
Patience is not indifference. Actually, it means caring very much but being willing, nevertheless, to submit to the Lord and to what the scriptures call the “process of time.”Patience is tied very closely to faith in our Heavenly Father. Actually, when we are unduly impatient we are suggesting that we know what is best — better than God does . Or, at least, we are asserting that our timetable is better than His. Either way we are questioning the reality of God’s omniscience.
Paul, speaking to the Hebrews, brings us up short by writing that, even after faithful disciples had “done the will of God,” they “[had] need of patience” (Hebrews 10:36). How many times have good individuals done the right thing only to break or wear away under subsequent stress, cancelling out much of the value of what they had already so painstakingly done? Sometimes that which we are doing is correct enough but simply needs to be persisted in patiently, not for a minute or a moment but sometimes for years. Paul speaks of the marathon of life and of how we must “run with patience the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). Paul did not select the hundred-metre dash for his analogy!
There is a dimension of patience which links it to a special reverence for life. Patience is a willingness, in a sense, to watch the unfolding purposes of God with a sense of wonder and awe, rather than pacing up and down within the room of our circumstance. Put another way, too much anxious opening of the oven door and the bread falls instead of rising. So it is with us. If we are always selfishly taking our temperature to see if we are happy, we will not be.
When we are impatient, we are neither reverential nor reflective because we are too self-centred. Whereas faith and patience are companions, so are selfishness and impatience. It is so easy to be confrontive without being informative; so easy to be indignant without being intelligent; so easy to be impulsive without being insightful. It is so easy to command others when we are not in control of ourselves.
In life, however, even patiently stretching out sweetness is sometimes not enough; in certain situations, enjoyment must actually be deferred. A patient willingness to defer dividends is a hallmark of individual maturity. It is, parenthetically, a hallmark of free nations that their citizens can discipline themselves today for a better tomorrow. Yet Ghana is in trouble (as are other nations) precisely because a patient persistence in a wise course of public policy is so difficult to attain. Too many impatient politicians buy today‘s votes with tomorrow‘s inflation.
Clearly, without patience we will learn less in life. We will see less; we will feel less; we will hear less. Ironically, “rush” and “more” usually mean “less.” The pressure of “now,” time and time again, go against the grain of the gospel with its special promises.
There is also in patience a greater opportunity for that discernment which sorts out the things that matter most from the things that matter least. The mealtime episode of the Saviour in the home of Mary and Martha is an example. Anxious, impatient Martha focused on getting food on the table while Mary wisely chose “the good part”—companionship and conversation instead of calories—a good choice, the Saviour said, which would not be taken from her.
In our approach to life, patience helps us to also realise that while we may be ready to move on, having had enough of a particular learning experience, our continued presence is often needed as a part of the learning environment of others. Patience is thus closely connected with two other central attributes of Christianity—love and humility. Paul said to the saints at Thessalonica, “Be patient toward all men”—clearly a part of keeping the second great commandment (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
The patient person assumes that what others have to say is worth listening to. A patient person is not so chronically eager to put forth his or her own ideas. In true humility, we do some waiting upon others. We value them for what they say and what they have to contribute. Patience and humility are special friends.
Since our competition in life, as Boyd K. Packer has perceptively said, is solely with our old self, we ought to be free from the jealousies and anxieties of the world which go with interpersonal competition. Very importantly, it is patience, when combined with love, which permits us “in process of time” to detoxify our disappointments. Patience and love take the radioactivity out of our resentments. These are neither small nor occasional needs in most of our lives.
Thus it is that patience is to human nature what photosynthesis is to nature. Photosynthesis, the most important single chemical reaction we know, brings together water, light, chlorophyll, and carbon dioxide, processing annually the hundreds of trillions of tonnes of carbon dioxide and converting them to oxygen as part of the process of making food and fuel. The marvellous process of photosynthesis is crucial to life on this planet, and it is a very constant and patient process. So, too, is an individual‘s spiritual growth. Neither patience nor photosynthesis is conspicuous process.
Patience is always involved in the spiritual chemistry of the soul, not only when we try to turn the trials and tribulations—the carbon dioxide, as it were—into joy and growth, but also when we use it to build upon the seemingly ordinary experiences to bring about happy and spiritual outcomes.
Patience is, therefore, clearly not fatalistic, shoulder-shrugging resignation. It is the acceptance of a divine rhythm to life; it is obedience prolonged. Patience is never condescending or exclusive—it is never glad when others are left out. Patience never preens itself; it prefers keeping the window of the soul open.
In the words of a special choral hymn, “Come, Let Us Anew,” those who have prevailed “by the patience and hope and the labour of love” will hear the glorious words,” ‘Well and faithfully done; / Enter into my joy and sit down on my throne’ “ (LDS Hymn 217).
May each of us live for that special moment patiently and righteously is my hope and prayer for all reading these reflective words.
By Samuel Enos Eghan