Ethics, Morals, Behavior
The Impatience Slide
by Ed Vasicek
A man rushed into the doctor's office and pleaded with the nurse, "Please, I must see the doctor right away. I'm shrinking an inch every five minutes." "Have a seat over there," pointed the nurse coldly, "and be a little patient!"
Patience is not my strong suit. Although I do admit that I have grown in this area, I still find it challenging to do plumbing and maintain a good Christian testimony at the same time! I sometimes do that new dance called "the impatience slide."
Even though I am ultimately responsible for my own behavior, a lot of factors influence my struggle. My dad was generous when it came to money, but impatient and unusually stingy with time and energy. As a result, I learned to associate impatience with masculinity; women are patient, I was taught (by example), men are not.
Stress doesn't help. How does the old song go—"so little time, so much to do?" I can get particularly unpleasant when people try to rush me, or when I perceive they are rushing me—even if they are not. I have learned to handle this by asking, "Will you please stop rushing me?" Others often reply, "I am not rushing you!" My own imagination sometimes works against me.
As I grow in the Lord and in years, I do find it easier (but not necessarily easy) to be patient. I have learned a number of tricks. For example, I try to allow plenty of time to avoid situations that force me to rush. Sometimes I remember to pray and ask God to help me get His perspective.
The Importance of Patience
But why is patience important? The first and main reason is clear: patience is a characteristic of God, and we are to imitate God's character (Ephesians 5:1). In Jonah 4:2, Jonah prayed, "I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity." The idea of being "slow to anger" is synonymous with patience, and patience is about controlling anger and delaying it just as God does.
Peter tells us: "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). God's patience toward us can be misinterpreted as "slowness," when in reality it is an intentional delay of His wrath. We can conclude that a second reason patience is important is because it allows for some problems to be resolved (in this example, through repentance). Many problems, for example, are the result of miscommunication. It takes patience to detect and correct miscommunication.
A third reason patience is important is that it nurtures reasoned, rather than emotion-driven, behavior.
God is patient in His relationship to us because relationships thrive in an atmosphere of patience, a fourth reason. Impatience intimidates and stifles; patience is a gracious attribute composing one of the sections of the "fruit of the Spirit."
Impatient people are socially undesirable; in marriage, impatience can turn into contempt and sarcasm, potent poisons that have killed many marriages. The Bible's command to parents is clear: "Fathers, do not exasperate your children." When we think of exasperating children, we usually mention scolding, constantly raising the bar, hiding criticisms in complements, etc., but impatience is also a formidable exasperator. Some children avoid their parents because mom or dad's impatience is intimidating and belittling.
What is Patience?
Let's talk about what patience is not: denying reality or passivity. As far as God's patience goes, "Nowhere along the chain are the claims...of God's righteousness abandoned. Nowhere is patience reduced to a kind of apathetic tolerance; everywhere anger, wrath, and any final judgment are delayed for the sake of repentance" (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia ,Vol. 3, p. 689).
On a human level, patience is not apathy, disinterest, laxness, passivity, indifference, unconcern, being lukewarm, neutrality, isolation, detachment, or listlessness.
Although patience is not apathy, we must recognize that some people seem patient simply because they are unproductive! What some people consider "patience" might simply be a lack of initiative or purposelessness. Ones personal patience (or lack thereof) is seen in the pressure cooker, not the easy chair.
Two Greek words are used in the New Testament for patience. The first is makrothumia. This is the choice to refrain from avenging oneself, at least immediately; it can include either a delay or erasure of wrath. If a patient individual chooses to exercise his wrath or his rights, it is not during the heat of the moment. Controlled anger (or seeking justice) surfaces after rational thought and Biblical analysis, not in the heat of the moment. We might call this "the patience motivated by love."
This "delay" aspect of patience runs against the grain of the Fight Instinct. If we experience the urge to fight (usually verbally) we wait; we gather our thoughts, get our composure, and perhaps seek counsel.
The second Greek word is hupomone. This involves the choice to bravely endure what cannot or should not be controlled. It involves the concept of resignation. This form of patience bucks the flight instinct. We face the situation and endure the consequences. Honoring commitments we are tempted to renege upon is one example of this kind of patience. This patience keeps us from seeking unethical shortcuts and improper compromises. We might call this "patience motivated by hope" (1 Thessalonians 1:3b).
Put it together and what do you get? "Patience is accepting what cannot be changed and responding to what can be changed by first delaying wrath and then developing a reasoned response."
What Can I Do About It?
Good question! First, I must recognize the factors that contribute toward impatience. Heredity is one of them: some of us are born with a propensity to be impatient. The playing field is not level. Environment is another factor. If my parents were impatient, their example adds an obstacle to overcome. But my current environment is another factor. If I do not have margin in my life (time margin, financial margin, and energy margin), then I am asking for a stressed lifestyle. This stress increases the temptation toward impatience.
These factors do influence our struggles with impatience. But even if we have such propensities, we still need to (secondly) remind ourselves that we are responsible for our own behavior. We must take ownership of ourselves.
So here are a few tips:
Orchestrate success through wise living. Do not overstretch yourself. Note the situations that make you impatient and try to preclude them. Be a student of yourself.
"Put on" patience (see Colossians 3:12); we can choose to be patient at the point of temptation, but it takes a conscious decision.
Grow in the Lord. As we grow in the Lord, we begin to manifest the "fruit of the Spirit" which includes patience (Galatians 5:22).
Cooperate with God who is trying to build patience within you through the trials and stresses of life (Romans 5:3-5). If you resign yourself to learn from these trials, you will find that you grow in patience; if you fight tooth and nail, you make little progress.
Patience—it's worth waiting for!
Reprinted from the July 2007 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.
Highland Park Church