How to Find Patience in Challenging Situations
Patience is something I've struggled with most of my life. I think it comes inherent with my type-A personality and my deep rooted strive for perfection. The irony is that I know I'm not perfect. I'll never be perfect. I make mistakes and a whole bunch of them at that! I'm perfectly imperfect in every way. Perfectly imperfect. Think about that and let it register within you. We're all perfectly imperfect. There is no other way to be. The ironic thing about my strive for perfection is that while I want to succeed at everything I do, I also know not to pressure myself anymore. I have complete acceptance if I fail or my results are not precisely what I have envisioned. How can that make any sense? It took me many years to learn that setting a goal to succeed in any one thing is great, but allowing myself grace if I do not meet the goal is even better. You see, I believe that if we try our very best at the goal we set then that should be enough. We need to have patience with ourselves and the progress we're making. We need to have patience for others who are fighting their own battles, whether similar or even worse than our own. Patience is a form of acceptance. We accept that the journey we are on is not yet complete and we know we're also far from where we started. Joyce Meyer frequently states, "I'm not where I need to be but thank God I'm not where I used to be!" Her quote speaks volumes to me and so did her book Battlefield of the Mind. It talks about transforming our mind and thought patterns to be more positive and to focus on God's word.
Someone complained to me the other day that a flight attendant was less than helpful on their flight. The attendant was noticeably grumpy and wouldn't take the time to ask the pilot when they were expected to take off and land (the flight was delayed). My response to this person was, "Well, maybe they weren't having a good morning and something bad happened to them. What if someone they loved passed away this morning? They could be having a rough start." The person laughed and said back to me, "The problem with you is that you're too nice to everyone. You always find the bright side of things and believe the best in everyone." I laughed for a split second at the person's observation, but ultimately said I didn't think that was a bad thing because we've all had bad days and only hope the people we encountered were patient and kind enough to see through our moody temper to forgive the actions we may not have known we were even inflicting. Am I right? I've had moments in the past of being short tempered somewhere/to someone and almost immediately after regretted it and thought, "WHY did I have to act that way?" I let my emotions get the best of me. I was impatient. Patience is reflected in how we speak, think, feel, and act. Patience is within us but gets clogged up by other emotions that are also brewing within us. The Bible says in Galatians 5:22-23 that patience is one of the fruits of the spirit. This is how we know we have it within us already, we just need to seek it out intentionally. When we pray to be filled and lead by the Holy Spirit, the fruits of the spirit will be at the forefront of our minds and in our hearts. I will likely post more later about the fruits of the spirit. The fruit of the spirit is a topic that touches my heart deeply and something I think everyone should study in more depth.
Now, what about patience in love and our relationships? I've struggled with that too. Or I should say, I currently struggle with this. I'm human, remember? Every person is different and sees things from a perspective influenced by their lives, environment, and experiences. When communicating with any person in our life, we can become frustrated that they may not seem to understand what we're trying to convey. Is it them that has the problem then? Or us? Or both? Communication involves two or more individuals, so it would make sense that both (all) are to blame. This is hard for me. I'm an introvert and admittedly spent 31 of my 33 years so far not knowing I was. I've learned only recently what this term means and the in depth ways it applies to my life. When I try to express something and the other person doesn't thoroughly understand what I'm trying to convey, it is frustrating because it takes me more effort (as an introvert) to convey my thoughts than it would a more outgoing extrovert who loves to talk. It can feel like perhaps I wasn't important enough to listen to the first time and I can become impatient with the conversation/person because I do not want to repeat myself. This is dangerous territory as frustrations may rise and the whole purpose of the conversation switches into an argument over hurt feelings. We've all done it!
There are other things in relationships that cause us to lose our patience such as: unmet expectation, disappointment, lack of follow through, feeling low on the priority list, our needs not being met, simply having to WAIT on the other person for any reason, any thing. These are just to name a handful out of hundreds of reasons I'm sure you can think of as to why you've ever felt impatient.
I think most of the time it is external factors that have added up throughout the day that finally push us over the edge. It is unfortunate for the person who's in our presence when the last bit of patience we have gets balled up, lit on fire, and thrown out the window. Is it their fault? Is it the fault of the people or occurrences that transpired throughout the day that lead up to the moment when we lose our patience? No. Our response is our responsibility. I learned that line from the Love & Respect Podcast. IT IS SO TRUE!!! I've heard versions of this idea before in other teachings, but the way Dr. Eggerichs describes it, repeating that line over and over really hit home. MY response is MY responsibility. People can do things to hurt us, offend us, embarrass us, anything. We have a right to feel whatever we feel as an emotional response, of course! However, we do not have a right to blame the other person for how we respond to it. Feeling an emotional response is NOT the same as acting on an emotional response. We have a right to be hurt and sad. We do not have a right to shut the other person out or say mean things to them. We have a right to feel angry and upset when offended. We do not have a right to yell, speak condescendingly, or deny the other person love and respect. Our response is our responsibility.
You can read more on how to understand what what your significant other needs in Dr. Eggerichs' book Love & Respect. This is one of my all-time favorites, and on my annual re-read list so that I refresh in my mind some critical points to remember. And if your focus is more on communication, his book The Language of Love & Respect is great too. You can find it and some other helpful books in my list of books here.
Finally, what about patience with life and God's timing and will for us? Do you have patience to trust that His plan is working in and through you? Patience that you should not stress or worry about the unknown future that we planned for ourselves hoping that after the fact God would give us His blessing? I've struggled with that too!!! I've mentioned before the idea that we build our life expectations based on what we see around us. We piece ideas together in our minds like playing house and decide for ourselves how old we are going to be when we get married, the jobs we'll have, the house we'll live in, and the number of kids we'll have... the perfect cookie cutter life. Yet, God's plan for our lives can be radically different and when His timeline begins to veer off from our own expectations, we proceed to try to force in the pieces He's "missed". We get frustrated that we're not married by that set age, we haven't had kids by that set age, we didn't get to travel here or buy this or have the home we dreamed of by that age. We become impatient with God and we don't even realize it. We start pulling in the reinforcements for our back up plan. We settle for what will accomplish our cookie cutter life the fastest without truly listening to God's plan for us. I've done this. In fact, I did this so well that it only took a couple years to fall off my cookie cutter train back into the reality that God was calling me to. It's more like the train derailed, threw me off, and then ran me over actually. The life I had stitched together for myself wasn't precisely God's will for me. I believe He answers prayers in multiple ways and sometimes His way is to say yes only to teach us a lesson. While I thank God for the hard lessons and know that I critically needed them, I also know it wasn't that God wanted me to suffer. I was impatient with God's timing. He wants to and will answer our prayers. We need to be patient for Him to fulfill them when He knows we can handle the blessing(s) bestowed. We need to be patient for Him to tell us YES...and sometimes it's a YES, just not yet. We need to be patient for Him to tell us NO, which is a firm and solid no - not for us to work in what we want against His will. I do not want to be impatient with God. His timing is always perfect.
Finding a healthy way to express ourselves is the true goal in all of this. In order to react to any external factor that is out of our control we need patience. We need patience for ourselves and to extend patience to others. We need grace for ourselves and for others. We're all human and we all make mistakes. This is still a work in progress for me and may always be for that matter. The good thing is that I recognize it now instead of believing that my emotions and reactions are justified. The 2nd part to the podcast mentioned above by Dr. Eggerich is here. It's worth listening to, over and over again!
Here's some ideas on how to practice patience - a very noninclusive list summarizing my thoughts above:
- Think before you speak. Is it kind? It is true? Is it necessary?
- Think before you react. My response is MY responsibility. Will my reaction help the situation or make it worse?
- Consider what the other person's intentions are. Are they a good-willed person, trying to help? Are they intentionally trying to hurt you?
- Allow yourself to feel your emotional response in a healthy way, while remaining calm and collected when you speak.
- Pray for forgiveness, for yourself and for others so that you can practice forgiveness
- Expect the unexpected. When we plan everything too rigidly, we're bound to be disappointed by any change that occurs.
- Start your day off with affirmations that it will be a great day and that you would like to be the example of Christ that someone needs to experience today. You can turn someone's bad day around by extending them grace.
- Study grace and patience. The bible is an endless resource for this.
- Be flexible in expectations so that you allow God to work in your life, and therefore not set yourself back if your expectations do not pan out.
- Remember everyone is different. Two people can look at the same thing and see something completely different. The goal is not to convince them of your view. The goal is to share your view while accepting theirs. No one wins in an argument if the other person feels bad.
This idea of patience may feel like a heavy topic. Why do we struggle with it so much? Yet why is it a complete blessing to receive patience from someone else when we least deserve it? By nature we are selfish to some varying degree as humans. We can't help that. We struggle to forgive, yet expect and want to be forgiven. We want patience bestowed onto us, yet struggle to maintain patience for others. One thing we can do as humans is practice the gift of free will. Therefore, we can choose to be patient. We can choose to extend grace to others when we see them struggling and try to put ourselves in their shoes. We can act IN grace to lift them up, extend forgiveness and show intentional love. Sometimes that's all a person needs to turn their day around. You could be the influential person who loves intentionally, extends grace intentionally, reacts with patience intentionally. I think we all could use a little more practice in doing this. I'm sure you can remember a recent time you should have reacted with more patience and more grace. Today is a new day though, we're forgiven and made new in Christ, and thankfully we'll get another chance to get it right. I'm grateful for that. Continuous improvement for the perfectly imperfect.