What is something we all need more of, but don’t want to take the time to work at? What is something the world needs more of, but seems to be having less and less of? What’s the one trait in people who we tend to be around on the roads we drive on that's missing the most (possibly even ourselves)? Patience.
I tend to get a kick out of watching people at the grocery store as they pull up their carts to check out only to be met with lines that seem to be moving at a snail’s pace. Or, at the airport when waiting in the TSA lines. The dramatic physical reactions that ensue: rolling of the eyes, hands on the hips, sighs loud enough to be heard twenty feet away, and the shaking of the head. All are dead giveaways for a lack of patience. It reminds me of an audition for the latest teen movie.
I’ll admit, the one place where I struggle having patience the most isn’t the airport, or grocery store, or even the highway. It’s at the stop light. I’m glad people recognize that they shouldn’t text and drive, but when they sit at the light texting after the light turns green, well… THAT is annoying!... Sure, I try to be nice by not honking more than a ‘beep’, unlike some who just hold the horn down until the person ahead moves. I value my life too much than to provoke some potentially violent person with anger issues.
When thinking about patience tonight, I was reminded of the summer of ’85 when I was serving as an intern youth pastor for a small Methodist church in Poplar Bluff, MO. It was a great little church that really cared for their youth. One of the benefits was that I got to live with the pastor’s family in his home located on a beautiful farm outside of town.
It was a fun summer and I learned a lot, but one of the things I remember the most was a conversation I had with the pastor after dinner at his home about perfection. The pastor was in the mind set that we could attain perfection in this life because Jesus said, ‘be perfect as I am perfect’. I, on the other hand, took a different stance (still do).
My belief then, and now, is that we should strive for perfection in this life, but in all of history, there’s only been one perfect human and that was Jesus. Well, the pastor didn’t think that was right. He seemed to be a very reasonable, patient person, but that conversation stirred him up good!
After about ten or twenty minutes of banting back and forth about the meaning of ‘perfection’, his wife (a wonderfully patient and loving person), stepped in with her sweet, but stern, voice and said to the pastor, ‘Now honey, stop being ugly! He has a right to his opinion and you’re not being too perfect yourself.’ That calmed the conversation down, but he still needed to go outside to cool off.
I’d never heard that the term, ‘being ugly’ when describing a person’s impatience, but it sure fit. My point is that it doesn’t matter who you are, or in what situation you’re in, because even the most ‘spiritual’ among us wrestle with being patient. Especially when it comes to talking politics and religion!
I see patience as a byproduct of an inner ability to look beyond our own needs to the needs of others. Which is what empathy is. Being able to put our needs aside for those of others is also a byproduct of humility. After all, when we lose our patience, it’s usually because the other person, or situation, just doesn’t understand that our need is the most important.
Certainly, there are times when a righteous indignation is needed, but that’s different than losing patience. More often than not, if we put others first, it’s going to change our attitude about nearly everything we face where patience is required. Having the right attitude of heart ahead of time will prepare us for those unexpected moments when patience is needed. It's something I work on daily and still have a lot of work to do.
I want to challenge us all tonight. The next time that person cuts us off on the road, cuts in line, annoys us with their eating, or says something we completely disagree with, let’s take a deep breath and ask ourselves, ‘does it really matter that much?’ If someone cuts us off, will it change whether we get there any sooner? Will telling the person we disagree with that they’re wrong without hearing them out, and the chance of hurting their feelings, be worth losing their friendship? Or, will pointing out a person’s annoying habit be worth hurting their feelings in a way that we may never have the same relationship with them again because our impatience came across as being critical? Probably not.
So, tonight, I’m right there with everyone else in needing to ask myself if it's really worth it and will pray that we can all grow in patience together. Something I'm sure the Mrs. will appreciate that I have more of...!...