Ruth Graham, the wife of evangelist Dr. Billy Graham, is quoted as having requested that her tombstone have the words, “Thank you for your patience. Construction is finished.” Someone has said, “Patience tis a virtue, possess it if you can. Seldom found in a woman, never in a man.”
So, what is this elusive virtue that men don’t possess and women occasionally exhibit? Being a man, it may be hard for me to define but I will do my best. Please be patient with me.
Let’s begin with what patience is not.
Patience is not procrastination. Let’s face it, procrastination is an attempt to escape responsibility. It puts fate in control of my life and makes me the victim of circumstance.
Patience is not laziness. Laziness lives in the land of entitlement on the street of boredom in the house of the sluggard.
Patience is not a laisse fare attitude. The laid- back person likes the benefits of the producer but they are reluctant to join the work force.
I must confess that I have not been known for my patience. On one occasion our family was traveling from the Okanagan back to Alberta. It was a holiday and we were going to spend time with both sides of our family. When we got to Sicamous, there was a long line of cars waiting to get on the Trans Canada. I looked at the line and thought, “This isn’t for me. I’ll drive through a shallow ditch, get onto a service road and get on the highway further down.” As I drove off the highway into the ditch, my wife said, “You can’t do that!” I replied, “I just did!” My plan worked. There were no cars where the service road connected to the Trans Canada. There was delight and satisfaction as I pulled onto the highway unimpeded. We drove a few kilometers and to my utter dismay I found myself at the back of a loooooooong line of cars. Re-paving had stopped our progress. PATIENCE! That word shouldn’t be in the dictionary.
On another occasion we were stopped at a railway crossing waiting for a slow freight train to get out of our way and stop impeding my progress. My wife, sensing my frustration said to me, “Why don’t you use this time productively? Think of who we will be meeting with and how you can encourage them, ask questions that show an interest in them, and what words of affirmation you can deposit.” What a novel idea.
Life is filled with trains, traffic jams, line- ups at the bank, grocery carts with heaping loads of merchandise and people who move slower than a snail. Are we doomed to a prison of frustration and despair or can we learn to enjoy the benefits of patience? I want to choose the latter.
Let’s start with a simple definition of patience. It is the ability to wait with expectant faith without placing a timeline on my expectation. The key phrase is, “wait with expectant faith.” In religious language, faith is the ability to see the intangible reality of God. The tangible, complex universe becomes a doorway for knowing and understanding the intangible Being who calls Himself the self-existent one. Faith leads me to pursue the self-existent One or eternal, self-existent matter, otherwise known as evolution.
Let’s leave the religious realm and get back to the line-up of cars and the freight train blocking the railway crossing.
Unrealistic planning is a recipe for frustration. The line-ups increase the tension of over- scheduling. Learn to build margins into your planning. Margins add flexibility to your life and can increase your alertness. Margins keep you focused on your goal and at the same time, increase your enjoyment of the trip.
Use the down time to review your responsibilities. How can I apply myself more efficiently? What are the pressing needs of my wife and children? What steps could I take to sharpen my skills? These are just a few of the questions I could be asking myself and using as a launching pad for the productive use of a ‘delay.’
Learn to read the countenance of people. The distressed, downcast or deserted need a word of encouragement. I was on a flight where the woman across the aisle from me had distress written on her countenance. After a brief conversation I said, “It looks like you are distressed. Is everything okay?” Tears filled her eyes and she said, “Earlier this morning our son was backing his car out of the garage and ran over his 8-year-old son. He died.” This woman needed comfort in a time of distress.
Or perhaps you are behind that person with the over-loaded shopping cart and groaning as you think of the time it will take to get through the check-out. You could say something like this: “It must take diligent planning to think through the needs of your family. You are to be commended for the care you bring to your home.”
I think I can hear the objection: “But I’m not like that Duane. I just don’t think of things like that.” Let me tell you a secret. That’s not my natural modus operandi. We learn to break out of our self-contained, self- focused cocoon, and see how we can leave an enhancing, encouraging and equipping footprint. It’s a choice, not a natural characteristic.
So, what is the benefit of patience: Greater peace, greater productivity and a life with increased purpose. Thanks for your patience while I’m still under construction.