Ahhh. I’m so good at being patient this afternoon. I’m sitting in a coffee shop with a cuppa in my hand and some chocolate in my belly, and feeling pretty good about my patience levels. In fact, I’m feeling so patient, I’m pretty much comatose.
That wasn’t the case this morning. When we were running late for preschool and L insisted on getting her own breakfast from the fridge (which, being a 2-year-old, she intended to dump on the floor instead of eating) and de-socked herself yet AGAIN, and wanted to “wash” (read: splash) her hands in the sink full of dirty dishes and Z kept trying to convince me that her bladder was empty even though she hadn’t peed in at least 12 hours, and crying when I tried to brush her hair and crying again when she lost a fight with L over an elastic band (oh snap!), I wasn’t feeling or acting so patient then.
Patience, or lack thereof, is a running theme in my life these days. Ok, it’s been a running theme since just before I popped out my first munchkin.
It wasn’t something that I used to think that much about. Maybe because back in the day, I could usually take a moment to collect myself. But it’s pretty hard now, for example, to leave a car that is in motion (my foot being figuratively and literally on the gas pedal) because my fighting children are driving me insane. Plus, they seem to know exactly how to push my buttons most effectively. So now patience is something that I think about a lot. Mainly, how to acquire more of it.
There are a few verses in the new testament that talk about “passionate patience.” I always thought that was a strange phrase. Isn’t patience more calm and zen than that? Like the Buddhist monks that sort of breeze through life in Thailand? “Passionate” sounds like an aggressive paradox.
But as I’ve been wrestling with the concept of patience lately, I think the new testament writers (shout-out to Peter and Paul!) have a point. Two reasons in particular jumped out at me. The first is that I am really ineffective at trying to manufacture my own feelings of calm/zen/patience. Sometimes it seems like my attempts to be calm just create this strange momster who alternates between displays of extreme irritation and being a weird ventriloquist doll who is “calmly” gritting her teeth. It’s not pretty. So, for me at least, it’s not about trying to feel different.
The second reason is that I think patience goes deeper than a surface reaction. I am all for techniques to manage stress/impatience. If breathing or counting or installing a punching bag in your disgusting, prison-like basement help, that’s great. I think I may try the ol’ breathing into a paper bag trick one of these days myself. But management techniques are just that: they’re only managing reactions, not changing them. A passage from C.S. Lewis speaks to this:
Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man: it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. (Taken from Mere Christianity)
Leave it to Lewis to draw an illustration that is both incredibly insightful and deeply depressing. But I think that it points to the necessity of passionate patience. The new testament writers knew that trying to feel different, or trying to find good stress management techniques wouldn’t fix the problem. They knew that a deep, heart-level change was necessary. And that’s the kind of change that needs to be pursued with courage and diligence and, well, passion.
It’s tough to wrap my mind around it sometimes, but I think it’s starting to sink in. So, next time I’m faced with an irate toddler who wants to open a new container of yogurt that is identical to the two containers that are already open, I will ask God to give me a patient heart as I take a few deep breaths.