“You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
James 5:8 (RSV)
Patience is a hard sell. The dictionary defines patience as, “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.” The word is derived from the Latin word for “suffering”.
I don’t think many of us are naturally patient, though some of us, it’s true, may be wired that way more than others. For those not so inclined though, it can be a lifelong struggle to master our impatience and the things that impatience leads to: impulsive bad choices, unloving treatment of others, angry outbursts, chronic internal turmoil and unrest.
Yet the Scriptures are clear that patience is a virtue, as the old aphorism says, and in the first chapter of the book of James, verses two to four even go so far as to say that the process of learning patience (some translations use the related word “steadfastness”) through the suffering in our lives “perfects and completes” us (our characters, anyway). Even if, in theory, we can see the value of this painful training process in our spiritual growth, the suffering part doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. The Cross never is.
What’s helpful to me is to remember that this is not a self-help program. If I am to grow in my ability to be patient and wait for God, I need Him; I need His grace. Rather than impatiently lashing out at people around me, or impulsively trying to force a solution to a problem I encounter in my life, I must wait for God’s solution, His timing. He asks me simply to trust Him, to “Establish [my] heart”. How? By bringing myself back, over and over again, to the place of relinquishment; that is, letting go of my self-will, my ideas about how things are supposed to be, my strivings and manipulations, and choosing instead to believe that God will take care of me no matter how things seem at the moment. My heart needs to be established in that.
This learning takes time, practice, God’s grace, prayer, and especially humility. For I will inevitably fail, but my Holy Spirit “Trainer” wants me to grow stronger, and His “exercise program” is for my good. He loves me and desires that I be fit for His Kingdom.