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Simcha Fisher: Patience might just be the virtue you need in 2024

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God is patient. He calls us to be patient. How do we practice patience like God does? Photo: Supplied
God is patient. He calls us to be patient. How do we practice patience like God does? Photo: Supplied

When people start to really hit their stride at adults, they will often laugh at themselves for what gets them excited. “You know you’re really grown up when you’re thrilled to get a new toaster,” they might say, or: “A clear sign of maturity: I can’t wait to tell my friends about these amazing new dryer sheets I discovered.”

Spiritual adulthood is kind of like that, too. The things that you once passed over barely noticing, much less valuing, now rock your world. I remember discovering, for instance, that prudence was actually kind of a big deal.

I had once considered it sort of a loser’s virtue, something that you practice if you don’t have the imagination to excel at anything more interesting. But then my circumstances changed, my life got rearranged, and I realised that not only was prudence really hard, but the steady practice of it could yield beautiful things. And that’s why it’s one of the cardinal virtues! Turns out the church knows what it’s talking about; how about that.

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This year’s revelation: Patience. Patience is technically a secular virtue, and not one of the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and love) or one of the cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude), or even one of the gifts of the holy spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord). But when you imbue a secular virtue with faith, then it becomes something sacred.

Patience, like prudence, maybe doesn’t sound very impressive. It sounds like not doing something, and since when is that something to get excited about? Patience also gets a bad rap because there are all kinds of harmful or thoughtless or cowardly ways to be patient.

You could patiently wait for someone to stop hurting you or your family, even as they give no indication they are trying to change. This is bad for your family, bad for you, and bad for the perpetrator, as it just gives them more opportunities to sin.

Or you could be endlessly patient with yourself while you do the exact same stupid or harmful things over and over and over again, without ever jamming a wedge in those spinning wheels and taking a closer look at what is making them keep turning.

Or you could be patient with a bad situation because you think, consciously or unconsciously, that it’s exactly the crappy kind of thing that a crappy person like you deserves, and why would you even dare to hope for something better, like decent people get?

Or you could be outwardly patient, “keeping sweet” and putting on a mask of unperturbed tranquillity, while under the surface you’re plotting how to get even in subtle ways; or maybe telling yourself that you just need to sit tight until God swoops down and avenges you, humiliating and crushing your enemies, which is something you will enjoy heartily.

You could certainly call these things patience, because you’re quietly waiting without fussing or fighting while something undesirable continues. That is secular patience. But sacred patience is something very different.

I’ve been thinking about the patience of God. I don’t really know what else you could call it besides “patience” when you create human beings with all they need to be happy forever, and when they decide they don’t like that, you come up with an even better plan for them.

What else is it besides patience when you do send a redeemer, with lots of warning and lots of clear signs that this is who he is, and people still go, “Meh.” What else is it besides patience when Jesus hid not his face from shame and spitting?

And what else is it besides patience when God allows us to come to him over and over and over again with our foolishness and our failures, and always accepts us as wholeheartedly and unreservedly as if it were the first time?

God is patient. He calls us to be patient. How do we practice patience like God does? I will be the first to say it’s probably easier to take the long view when you dwell in the eternal now! People (all people) are temporal beings, and patience is something that goes against our grain. We cannot help but think about the future we wish for, and compare it to the present we never wanted, and feel the difference acutely.

You do it willingly, deliberately. You might not be able to choose the circumstances, but you can choose your willingness to be there. It may look like nothing from the outside, but it’s huge and difficult and redemptive to say, “Lord, this whole situation is garbage, and the sooner you can get me out of it, the better; but since I’m here, I’m taking you with me. Please let’s do this together.” This is sacred patience.

You do it with self-knowledge, knowing (or trying to know) that you were made to be happy and united with God, and that any injustices you’re suffering are just that: Injustices, which grieve God because he loves you and wants more for you. There’s a massive difference between accepting some suffering because you’re full of shame, and accepting it because you know that suffering is evil, but Jesus is good, and one way to be like Jesus is to suffer. This is sacred patience.

You do it with the knowledge that God is God and there is nothing that he cannot redeem, even if you yourself can’t imagine it. You’re not secretly, inwardly sitting on a throne of righteousness and just biding your time until God does the thing you know he’s going to do; you’re sitting in a dark room, not knowing what will be revealed when the light comes on, but trusting that it will be good—eventually. This is sacred patience.

I could go on. Sacred patience doesn’t mean not taking action, at all. It’s just that it’s mostly inward action, and it has to do with aligning our inward disposition with God. It’s not passive; it’s just subtle. And like many subtle strengths, it can take constant effort.

Like every human virtue, patience can be perverted and polluted by evil motivations or a wrongheaded view of God, the world, or self. Evil is not creative, but it is endlessly inventive, and loves to twist something good until it works against us, and moves us away from God. So, if we find ourselves in some difficult circumstances that we can’t escape, we could consider meditating on the old-fashioned virtue of patience. There may be more there than meets the eye.

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