Not a day goes by, and usually not even an hour, when we don’t face the considerable challenge of waiting for something or somebody. Waiting in a checkout line. Waiting for everyone to gather for a meeting or a lunch appointment. Waiting at a traffic light. Waiting in a doctor’s office. The list could go on and one, and those are just the relatively harmless forms of waiting. I’m sure you can think of other instances that are much more challenging, and even frightening.
That’s why my favorite and more frequent prayer is: “Lord, give me patience, but please hurry.” Patience is absolutely essential for dealing with waiting. You can often take actions to shorten a wait, but sometimes you can do nothing except ... wait. Patience is the ability to wait without experiencing anger, anxiety or frustration.
Patience is entirely internal. It’s subjective rather than objective. Since patience is internal, I want you to grasp a simple fact: when your ability to control external events is limited or nonexistent, you must learn to control your inner responses. You must learn to control your anger and your frustration and your anxiety. The good news is that those responses are always within your control, no matter what’s happening in the physical world.
Thomas Edison must have been one of the most patient people who ever lived. Edison developed an almost supernatural ability for patience in his work. Edison didn’t use conventional scientific methods. He progressed by simple trial and error. It’s said that when he was developing filaments for the first incandescent lightbulb, he tried more than seventeen thousand materials before he found one that worked.
How did he do it? He didn’t just passively absorb one failure after another, nor did he start throwing things against the wall. Instead, he turned the situation into a challenge, or even a game. If he tried using the skin of a potato in his lightbulb and it immediately burned to a crisp, he saw this as a discovery in itself. He didn’t say, “I still haven’t found something that will work.” He said, “I’ve found one more thing that doesn’t work.” He didn’t get depressed, he didn’t start a fight with his wife, and he didn’t kick the dog. He went on to the next thing.
Patience is the ability to detach from the need for immediate gratification. A baby wants its bottle now or the baby will cry. The rat wants its food as soon as it pushes the button.
The guy in the line at Starbucks wants his muffin and his special blend of java right away. Maybe all that is perfectly normal. But a class act knows that life is more complicated than doing what comes naturally. So a class act is able to wait when waiting is necessary.
Patience means accepting the obstacles and reversals that are inevitable in every area of life. You learned how to walk although you must have fallen down many times. Call upon your innate capacity for patience the next time you feel like giving up or flipping out. That capacity is still there, so learn to use it.
If you’re feeling enthusiastic about something in your life, be patient with people who can’t immediately share your exuberance and excitement. What’s more, accept that they may even resent you for it. This isn’t pretty or admirable, but it’s just the nature of some people.
Above all, recognize that there is no need to rush yourself or others in any aspect of learning and growth. Be patient about learning to be patient. Show this patience with yourself, and with others around you.
Is it easy to learn patience? No, it’s not. Patience is probably one of the most difficult personal qualities to master. It takes time and energy. But class does not come easy. And it’s not supposed to come easy. Many years ago the philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr wrote the words that has come to be known as the Serenity Prayer. Most people just know the first part but the entire prayer is what I really say when I need patience:
“God grant me the serenity,
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can.
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;
Taking, as you did, this sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it;
Trusting that you will make all things right
If I surrender to your will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with you forever in the next.”