We were talking about patience on More2Life Radio today. What it is, what it isn’t, and how to get more of it.
Patience, of course, is the virtue we all love to hate. We all know we need it, but we sure as heck don’t want to ask God to give it to us. And yet, perhaps some of that reluctance is due to the fact that we don’t really understand what patience is.
Psychologists refer to patience as the ability to delay gratification and we know from research that this ability is essential for a happy life. In his famous Stanford Marshmallow Experiments, psychologist Walter Mischel studied a group of kindergartners. He placed a marshmallow in front of each kid in his study and told them they could eat this marshmallow now or, if they could refrain from eating that marshmallow for 15 minutes while he stepped out of the room, they could have 2 marshmallows when he came back. He recorded their responses and then continued to check in with his participants periodically into adulthood. He found that the kids who were able to patiently wait for the second marshmallow, in high school, had better academic success and better SAT scores than the kids who ate the marshmallow right away. As they entered adulthood, the kids who were able to patiently wait for the second marshmallow had lower incidence of addictions and obesity, and reported higher scores on multiple measures of life and relationship satisfaction.
The ability to practice patience is key to living a happy life.
What Patience Is and What It Isn’t
Most people think that patience is the ability to endure an injustice without getting upset. But that’s not really what it is. In fact, passivity is Satan’s plagiarism of patience. To witness an injustice and feel nothing and do nothing isn’t a virtue, it’s the sin of sloth! In reality, patience is the virtue that allows us to respond to an injustice in a thoughtful, measured, proportionate and responsible way. Patience is the virtue that allows us to experience an injustice and, instead of lashing out and merely reacting in ways that ultimately make the problem even worse, step back and consider the best way to respond and then allow that good effort to germinate and blossom and bear fruit.
As I observe in my upcoming book, Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart, patience is an active virtue that allows us to respond in an appropriate way and then allow that response to mature and take effect. It allows us to make appropriate adjustments along the way and wait to see how those changes effect things before we make additional changes. True patience does not require us to disengage from the problem. It challenges us to engage in a more thoughtful and intentional manner.
It can become easier to practice patience when we stop seeing it as the call to simply grit our teeth and suffer without complaint. “Practicing patience” is really not about suffering gleefully. It is about responding to suffering and injustice in a way that allows you to be thoughtful and intentional and then, instead of complaining about it, stepping back and thoughtfully shepherding the good efforts you began to a fruitful and just conclusion. Yes, patience involves restraining ourselves from excessive complaining, pouting, and misery-making, but only so that we can save that energy we would waste complaining and instead be able to respond in a mature, productive way to the challenges we face, that God’s will might be done in our lives, that our needs would be met, and the injustices that plagued us could be resolved by his grace.
Seen in this light, perhaps we can allow patience to take it’s place in our lives as a key to happiness and well-being.