The Fruit of the Spirit: Patience

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In our society, which depends so much on technology, we have become ever and ever less patient.  The Ford Model T, the first successful mass produced car, could drive along at the breath-taking speed of 40 mph.  When I first drove on the autobahn in Germany, I drove as fast as I dared to drive, perhaps 80 mph, but I was being passed by drivers in Mercedes, BMW’s, and Porsche’s.  They were going so fast that I felt as if I was standing still.  Where were they going in such a hurry?

I remember when I got my first personal computer and connected it to the internet via the telephone line and then waited minutes while the computer booted up and connected to the internet.  Now I get impatient when it takes my computer a couple of seconds to load a webpage.  Is our technology making us less patient?  At the very least, our society encourages less patience, from fast food to the internet, we have become a very impatient society.  Yet we are not more productive for all our lack of patience.

Patience is defined by Webster as “the capacity, habit or fact of being patient; forbearance; bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint; not hasty or impetuous; steadfast despite opposition, difficulty or adversity; able or willing to bear.”  Someone has joked that one should never pray for patience, because God will put you into situations that require patience.  Increasing patience is a work of the Holy Spirit.

When I think of patience, I normally think of it’s antonym:  impatience.  But the biblical concept of patience is better defined as forbearance or long-suffering.  The primary Greek word is makrothumia, forbearance, patience, or long-suffering.  This is the word used in Galatians 5:22.

Forbearance, long-suffering imply self-restraint before proceeding to action.  Forbearance is the quality of a person who is able to avenge him or herself but forbears from doing so.  Forbearance or long-suffering is patience with respect to persons in contrast to endurance (hupomone), which is patience in respect to things or circumstances.  God’s forbearance in respect to human sin is associated with God’s mercy (eleos).

Patient forbearance is the characteristic that God has demonstrated to us through offering his great salvation.  In my daily life, I often find myself becoming impatient with people, from the slow waitress at the restaurant to the well-meaning, but chatty senior citizen.  Don’t they know how busy I am?  Don’t they know that I’ve got things to accomplish and get done?

I need to slow down and recognize the Spirit of God in these moments.  Am I extending the same mercy and patience to them that God has showed to me?

I’m reading a book right now called The Anatomy of Peace:  Resolving the Heart of Conflict, by the Arbinger Institute.  According to the authors, the heart of conflict is the problem of seeing people as objects.  The root of the author’s philosophy comes from Martin Buber, Ich und Du (I and Thou).  Buber’s main proposition is that we can address human existence in 2 ways:  The attitude of the “I” towards an it, that is as an object that is separate in itself ; or the attitude of the “Thou,” in a relationship in which the other is not separated from us by discrete bounds.  The main theme of the book is that human life finds its meaningfulness in relationships.  Buber believed that all of our relationships bring us ultimately in relationship with God, who is the Eternal Thou.

In my relationships with people with whom I experience impatience, it is because I am seeing them as objects, rather than people, as “it”, rather than “Thou.”  But if I take a moment and try to connect with the slow waitress, for example, my impatience disappears as I see them as people who may be experiencing the same frustrations that I experience in my life.  When I see people as objects, I am betraying my self.  It is a betrayal of my own sense of the right way to act in any given moment.

Throughout this day, Lord, help me to take notice of people – to see them as “Thou,” that is, people who are experiencing the same frustrations and trials that I myself experience.  Help me to be patient and forbearing as I recognize our mutual humanity.  Help me especially to recognize “Thou,” the Spirit of the living God in whose image we are all made.  Amen.

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