When I was six, my family spent a year in Houston, Texas. My parents were very good about enjoying unique opportunities in every place where we lived, so my mother tried her hand at Southern cuisine. Namely, okra. Being six years old, there were still a number of foods that . . . I had not yet learned to appreciate. Okra jumped to the top of that list.
Since then I have cautiously sampled okra that was breaded and fried (my mom boiled hers), and have found it tolerable. That’s a good thing, because I’m living in the South again (Kentucky) and may meet up with it on someone’s table.
I say all this to paint a picture of a spiritual virtue that used to sound as appealing to me as okra. I’m talking about patience.
One reason I wasn’t attracted to it was this statement by a church friend:
“Don’t pray for patience. If you do, God will send you difficult circumstances so you’ll have a chance to develop patience.”
Fortunately, in more recent years, some positive, peaceful folks have given me a whole new perspective on this virtue.
I have developed a new personal definition of “patience” . . . but let me share first what I found in the dictionary about it:
Patience: the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.
Oh, boy! Still kind of heavy. It gave me visions of a passive, lifeless person. You know, the kind who just doesn’t give a care.
Then I looked up “patience” in a thesaurus.
Patience: calmness, composure.
Now that was more like MY definition of the word:
PATIENCE: CHEERFUL, CONFIDENT WAITING
I am becoming cheerfully patient in pressure situations too, but my biggest revelation of patience is related to being patient while waiting for something . . . and waiting and waiting.
I’m learning not to put life on hold while I’m waiting. When I was waiting for a response to a job application, I tackled some projects I had pushed aside. It occurred to me that I had extra time now that I wouldn’t have once I was employed. Made me actually appreciate and enjoy my waiting time.
When I just couldn’t wait for my next trip to see my baby granddaughter, I borrowed my assistant pastor’s children one afternoon for an excursion to the park. Can’t tell you how much fun it was. And that family and those girls have always been special to me since then.
I am learning not to worry and fret while waiting for a bad situation to turn around. Recently, I learned of a devastating situation involving someone I love. First, I looked up scriptures about God’s love, his power, and his ways of doing things. I began praying for an outcome that matched up with his Word. I declared my trust in God’s concern and ability to change things. But I was still anxious.
The simple strategy that got me out of that rut was to tell myself, “God is working on it already. Things are already changing–I just can’t see it yet.”
I became hopeful and confident. It wasn’t long before this person’s attitude and circumstances changed dramatically.
Now I understand the apostle Paul’s awesome prayer for the Christians in Rome:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13 NIV).
Joy, peace, hope–that’s what patience looks like to me now.
I’m glad the valuable virtue called “patience” isn’t really like okra–boiled or deep fried. It is totally like sweet potatoes–swimming in a butter-and-brown-sugar sauce.
I have heard that “happiness is a way of travel–not a destination.” * Learning to enjoy the journey. . . . There’s another good definition of patience.
*Roy M. Goodman