Anything worth having is worth waiting for, but walking out this truth can push us to the edge.
crazy-night schedule began as I sped to the local high school, where I
was to pick up my son and daughter from after-school club meetings. I’d
hand off his sack dinner, rush her to violin lessons, drop him back
home, get her from lessons, take him to youth group, and then invent
dinner for the rest of the family.
But halfway to school, a
string of red tail lights lit up in front of me. I craned my neck to see
a power crew working on a line, narrowing the road to one lane. I
glanced at my watch and fumed. How dare they interrupt my tight
Then I felt a reprimand. That old enemy, impatience, had once again
found its target. I’m prone to pray, “Lord, give me patience–and hurry
up!” But God knows that everyday circumstances such as traffic problems
can help train me in this vital character trait.
I’m still in the school of patience, but there are some things I’ve learned along the way that I want to share with you.
your list. I had wrongly bought into our culture’s worship of
productivity. That meant cramming 30 hours of commitment into 24-hour
days. Unknowingly, I was illustrating Psalm 39:6
about the person who “goes to and fro…bustles about, but only in
vain” (NIV). When “bustling about” didn’t cross off everything in my
daily planner, I got frustrated, grouchy and impatient.
like the New Testament’s busy woman, Martha of Bethany! As Debi Stack
observed in Martha to the Max (Moody Publishing), “we think, feel, and
act as Martha did–overburdened and underappreciated. We have high
standards, low energy, little time, and no tolerance.”
learned that some commitments–even good ones–had to go before
impatience and stress set up a permanent pity party. When low enrollment
cancelled a college class I teach, I actually rejoiced to have another
evening freed up. Another time, I dropped out of a volunteer ministry so
I could focus on my primary ministry–my family.
things resulted. Though sometimes the schedules got crazy (like the
street repair night), I could cope better with the many things I had to
do. Cutting back also slowed me down to pray more.
Loosen up for
lulls. With a “do-this-do-that” attitude determining my schedule, I felt
guilty taking time for other people or even myself. My bedside table
was piled with books I wanted to read but didn’t dare pull into my lap
when I could be doing “productive” things. My contacts with people I
cared for shrunk to “Hi, how are you?” greetings as we rushed by each
other at church or at the store.
Relaxing seemed like a waste of time. Oh, I’d read Psalm 116:7–“Be
at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you”–but
ignored it as written for somebody who didn’t have as much to do.
by bit, I’m learning to put more spaces in my packed life, to “do” less
and “be” more. One sunny afternoon at home, as I hunched at the
computer doing “work,” my husband remarked, “It’s a beautiful day. I’d
like to go on a ride with you, but you’ll probably say ‘no.'”
Ouch! I turned off the machine and spent a few hours with him, just driving along the river and watching for bald eagles.
we admired one majestic bird soaring over the river for miles, I
understood why the prophet Isaiah used that analogy for the way God
lifts us up and renews our strength when we’re stressed and tired. When
impatience chokes my delight in God and other people, I need to
deliberately loosen up so He can help me “run and not grow weary” (Is. 40:31).
your demands. I’m wired to be a high achiever. That was a good trait
for getting through college. It was as if I carried a flag emblazoned
with Proverbs 13:4: “The desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.”
I got impatient when I couldn’t reach my goals or when others involved
in them didn’t perform up to snuff. My stint as editor of the college
paper was especially frustrating because student reporters often
disregarded deadlines or turned in inferior material.
impatience, however, had roots in perfectionism, the attitude that
something is never “good enough.” I saw this attitude displayed in my
teens when they slaved for hours over simple, 500-word essays. If they
suspected even a comma error, they sent another draft through the
printer, supplying me with a huge stack of junk paper.
they’ll learn, as I have, that they’ll never be perfect. Like the rest
of us, they’ll need to come down several notches from “perfection” to
the less-demanding idea of “pursuing excellence.”
I used to be a
neatnik, and I still like a tidy house. But I can now live with
vacuuming just once a week unless there’s been a major “debris
disaster.” My thank-you notes don’t have the elegant penmanship I
learned in fifth grade, but they’re written. And my husband is happy
with handkerchiefs I didn’t iron, as long as they’re clean.
ability to be happy with “excellence” has robbed impatience of its power
in that part of my life. I can tell when I’m on target by following a
principle Kathy Collard Miller expressed in her book Why Do I Put So
Much Pressure on Myself and Others? (Xulon Press): “If we are able to
relax and trust God– even for mistakes–we are mostly likely seeking
excellence,” she wrote. On the other hand, “If we are feeling tense,”
and I’d add, impatient, “then we’re most likely still focused on
striving for perfection.”
Thwart your triggers. I’ve noticed that
impatience is like chicken pox–highly contagious. When I get around
impatient people, they bring out my own impatience. Proverbs 22:24-25
warns us: “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not
associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get
Although impatience doesn’t always lead to
hot tempers, the principle still holds. We tend to adopt the attitudes
of those around us.
I saw this principle in action when my
children were preschoolers and had reached the end of their patience,
usually just before dinner. Tired and hungry, they went after each other
like cats defending their territory.
I had to split them up for
“time out”–on their beds with books, not toys–so the problem didn’t
escalate. I knew I was just as vulnerable to losing it–but instead of
taking “time out,” I had to keep cooking!
In my adult work world,
similar things happened when lunchroom conversations turned into
griping. Hearing others complain about workloads or their superiors made
me feel I had to add my own complaints to fit in.
But the result
was more impatience, not a solution. Sometimes I had to eat at another
time or elsewhere instead of adding to the grumbling.
children did, I profit from a “time out” to restore my perspective.
Instead of dwelling on things that try my patience, I ask God to send
the check that comes from His Word.
He has a whole shelf of
antidotes, easily found in a concordance under “patience” and related
words. I write them out on 3×5 cards and have several rubber-banded
together on my bedside table for review before I go to sleep.
When things don’t go my way and I want to whine, “Why me?”, God’s Patience Patrol whispers verses such as Colossians 3:12:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe
yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and
patience.” Memorizing such verses requires me to think about each word.
no quick route to patience. When I dared to pray for it, God let me
have it–slowly. One at a time, my desires to have everything quick and
perfect have fallen by the wayside as I’ve gone through the training
program He tailor-made just for me.
Now when I encounter
roadblocks and delays that test my patience, I try to let God sit in the
driver’s seat. He not only knows the best routes to develop my
character, He’s never in a hurry. And He will get me where I need to
be–in His perfect time.
Zornes is a conference speaker and author of several books, including
When I Prayed for Patience…God Let Me Have It! (Kregel).