“Patience teaches us to trust our journeys.” “Patience helps us maintain right attitudes while waiting.” “Good things will always come to those of us who believe, but even better things to those who are patient, and the best to those who don’t give up?” “Be patient; everything is coming together.” “Patience is one’s capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.” While these cliches attempt to describe patience, an authentic understanding of this human virtue involves more than striving to have good attitudes; simple trust; tolerance; or avoidance of anger. Even the synonyms for patience get us a bit off-track from owning patience. At a minimum, patience is the sum total of all of the above plus more. Let’s talk about more next.
Michelangelo - a genius/master sculptor, drawer, painter, architect, and philosopher noted: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it. Within our lifetimes, the greatest danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short but setting our aim too low and achieving our mark. If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.” His statements begin to unveil the qualities and characteristics of authentic patience. How?
Substituting the words — blocks of human flesh — for Michelangelo’s blocks of stone moves us beyond mere thoughts about our natural talents and invites us to reflect on the intrinsic/natural purpose, value, and design of the human person — especially self. ‘Every block of human flesh has a great masterpiece inside it and it is our tasks to discover our genius. Within our lifetimes, the greatest danger for us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short but setting our aim too low and achieving our mark.’ Michelangelo’s disappointment with those who take the easy route should be our disappointment as well. But is it?
Why do we aim low and achieve less? It seems directly related to the lack of patience with self, others or God. We want to resolve the who, what, when while very young without giving much thought or exploration of the our core self. We all too readily want to accomplish yesterday’s goals last week without looking ahead 20 years or more. We fail to really consider who we are in terms of body, soul and mind with psychological, spiritual, social, physical, and mental dimensions. Too often, we turn our backs on the needs of our immaterial selves while gratifying only material desires.
Michelangelo’s philosophy of life still applies even though — as a society — we tend to aim low and deliver less just because of our impatience with self, others and God. Few of us spend the hours Michelangelo did to create David, Moses, the Pieta, the Sistine Chapel, and others. His masterpieces reveal authentic patience with himself, others and God. Michelangelo said that he painted with his head and not his hands; we live in a time where its easier to create with our hands rather than our heads. And the results are accordingly less masterful — to be sure. How can we discern authentic patience?
Several years ago, a priest taught students in the St. Paul Catechetical Study Program that each of us probably has a greater struggle with one of the three Theological Virtues [Faith, Hope, Charity] for different reasons. He assigned an hour of personal prayer, reflection, and discernment to help us figure out which of the three virtues was most challenging for us — personally. I discerned that Love [Charity] was my obstacle to holiness without being able to fully articulate why. That is, until I read Adel Bestavros’ [self-described servant, teacher, leader, and family patriarch of the Egyptian Coptic Christian Sect] prescription for Patience. Bestavros defined patience this way: “Patience with others is Love; Patience with self is Hope; and Patience with God is Faith.” His explanation revealed why Love is my greatest challenge to holiness. Impatience with others opposes authentic love because it all too readily reveals the underlying, competing issue of pride and self love. Impatient love is not the way that Christ loves me. It is not the way that Christ loves the people I am most impatient with. Bestavros’ definition helps me understand patience more genuinely than do the modern cliches quipping about the virtue. For all of our sakes, let us pray for God’s help to love others authentically. He has taught us that there is Faith, Hope and Love but the greatest of these is Love. “ If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” [1 Corinthians 13:1]
Patience with self is Hope. For those struggling with Hope, perhaps you have discerned that you are most impatient with yourself. You may not reflect often enough on the fact that you are God’s masterpiece — a work of art in progress. Maybe you tend to tell yourself you coulda, woulda, shoulda done this or that. These negative thoughts beat you up for not already being perfect! This self-abasement stymies the revelation of a genius within! Any do-overs are probably pretty hard on your self esteem. “If you consider yourself a work of art, and you should, then you will be able to fully appreciate that you are not to be rushed. Meet yourself where ever you are and don't judge. Work patiently and gently to free the masterpiece that is you. Never give up. Never give in. Keep at it. Oh so patiently.” [ http://www.sandraguzman.com/2012/05/genius-is-eternal-patience.html] When we are impatient with self, we may also tend to question our relationship with God. We may be tempted to lose Hope - the firm awareness that we need God’s help [grace] to get to Heaven. [CCC p. 882] List your talents, gifts, and abilities and thank God for each of them. Strive to become the genius he designed you to be. Pray for Patience with yourself.
Patience with God is Faith. For those who struggle being patient with God you are probably also struggling to be patient with His Church. Impatience dismisses our First (Primary) Obligation: “To Love, Honor and Obey God with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul and with all one’s efforts.” [CCC 1809; p. 879] Impatience with God, makes it very difficult to accept, adhere to, assent to, or even desire to know His moral right from wrong. We already have a tendency to be independent from God; impatience hurries that tendency along. Impatience with things of God blurs the necessary linkage between our feet and the practice of our Faith. Impatience with God diminishes the desire to get to Heaven because we may wonder whether or not God and Heaven even exist. Your blame for things gone wrong probably point to God rather than self. As impatience turns us from God, our love for Him is replaced with love of self and all things material. Have you wondered if Truth and Morality - one right conduct — are real? Perhaps unwittingly you have allowed relativism to seep into your worldview; thereby, decreasing your patience with God. All too often we use the excuse of relativism to explain away our greatest moral defect or sin. Ongoing impatience with anyone always makes it difficult to acknowledge their goodness publicly or privately — this also pertains to God. Pray for an increase in Faith-always - but especially when acting impatient with God.
Understanding that patience acts as a barometer of the strength or weakness of Faith, Hope and Love is important. It is also important to note that the authentic practice of patience helps to advance all human virtues while opposing all vice. Finally, it’s worth noting that patience — the virtue — is negatively stressed by living overly busy lives. Have you read that BUSY is an acronym for being under Satan’s yoke? Busyness prevents us from aiming high and achieving mastery of things worthwhile — of God. Studies show that Americans complain about being too busy; while, actually loving it. Authors, Silvia Bellezza, Neeru Paharia and Anat Keinan, found that while most Americans complain about being too busy, they are actually humble-bragging about their own value and purpose in life. Being overly busy only serves to pat ourselves down with false honor and purpose. The above authors contend that in our society, the “busy person is perceived as having high status which is heavily influenced by our own beliefs about social mobility. In other words, the more we believe that one has the opportunity for success based on hard work, the more we tend to think that people who skip leisure and work all the time are of higher standing. By telling others that we are busy and working all the time, we implicitly suggest that we are sought after, which enhances our own perceived status.” [Research: Why Americans Are So Impressed by Busyness. Harvard Business Review. December 15, 2016.] This is a rather new American phenomena that probably won’t change anytime soon. Compared with Italians [who still value leisure over busyness], Americans are on unhealthy paths forward toward the undisciplined pursuit of more. [Bellezza, Paharia and Keinan, McKeown, etc.}
The most unfortunate reality of over-valuation of busyness is that it will be readily passed on to the next generation! Children learn what’s normal from their parents example. They also tend to adopt similar world views after learning through example. And parents have proven beyond a doubt that they love being busy. All too many of us equate time with money and busy lives mean we are living the Good Life.
Thankfully, many people love patience for all the right reasons and swear by it. These are the people we should listen to. The next two examples help prove that point. In the first example, the couple has learned what patience is all about. The second example proves the need for patience.
Lesson 1: My friend recently remarked that she and her husband take the backroads home from their lake cabin. She had to explain why to my surprised face — proving me to be the dummy. Mary gave three reasons. The backroads are almost always less crowded and the traffic is slower. Fast drivers naturally prefer freeways over backroads. Mike and Mary like to drive slowly so they can appreciate the nature they are passing by — the animals, birds, fields, places and people of interest. The slow drive also provides them with the opportunity to reflect [together] on how the weekend went for their guests and themselves. They get to discuss what — if anything — they will do differently next time, based on what worked or didn’t work this weekend. Mike can more easily participate in such discussions when the traffic is light and he feels unhurried. Finally, they arrive home just as rested as when they left the cabin.
Lesson 2: Several years ago, we hosted a family reunion. That was a true test of patience with self, others and God! One of our nephews named Mike came with his parents. Mike watched our son, Patrick, water ski; and was very eager to try it since he never had opportunity to do so before this weekend. We were happy to accommodate his desire to learn to ski. After explaining the waterskiing basics to Mike, he informed us that he was going to start out with one ski — just like Patrick. We explained the need to start with two skis — balance, inexperience, slower starts, etc. We said he could certainly try one ski after first learning on two… Mike insisted that he would try slalom skiing since he already knew how to snow board! We tried to explain that snow boarders just jump up and go down the mountain from a standing position whereas water skiers have to learn how to let the boat pull them up and out of the water while maintaining good balance, etc. Mike continued to insist on going solo. His personal motto emerged: “One or none — and no problem.” Nothing changed his mind. His mother didn’t help matters when she asked us to let him try. “Don’t discourage him.” She was also a non-skier. His father agreed with us; however the son insisted he could and would do it with only one ski — and on the first try. Perhaps he was a Michelangelo in the making — high aims without promise of success. But after several tries, he just gave up even though we tried to encourage him to use two skis next. “Nothing doing” said Mike proving he was no Michelangelo. Mike lacked patience and self discipline to learn a new skill the right way. However, he would have agreed with Michelangelo’s assertion that after realizing how hard Patrick had to work at mastering slalom skiing; the water skiing just wasn’t worth it or even wonderful. He turned down the chance to become a great water skier who loved the sport after first practicing extreme patience.
Patience matters. Patience with others, self and God matters. Authentic patience helps us appreciate life. Patience helps us aim high and hope for the future. Patience is eternal. God is eternal. Patience is one of God’s many attributes. He has proven he is eternally patient with mankind. He has proven he is eternally patient with you and me. Let’s be patient with His Design.
I hope you found this article helpful and inspiring. Please use the following exercises as a way to better understand patience with self, others, and God.
- Pray for authentic patience.
- Receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently.
- Pray to the Holy Spirit for help and strength to put on Authentic Patience.
- Reflect on the Three Theological Virtues. Pull out your copy of the Catholic Catechism and read the various paragraphs listed in the index for Faith, Hope and Charity.
- After reflecting on the Theological Virtues, select which Theological Virtue challenges you the most.
- How patient are you with God, self or others? Who are you most impatient with — self, God, or others? Does this least patience link well to your most challenging Theological Virtue? Why/why not?
- Write a short paragraph describing yourself.
If you would like to read other works by Linda Kracht, founder of Fortifying Families of Faith visit www.fortifyingfamiliesoffaith.com. Linda has authored many books that benefit parents interested in parenting agains the tide of today’s wishy-washy culture. Recommended reading include: Black & White: An Examination of God's Moral Laws; Mothers Forever, Fathers Forever: Parenting Against the Tide; and Daughters Forever, Sons Forever Curriculum. You may also ask Linda a question by sending her an email to email@example.com