Why is it we are impatience?
Think about that for yourself.
Preparing a sermon on patience has allowed me to become more circumspect about my relationship to patience. And I’m inviting you to do the same. Although impatience is all about wanting something to happen faster, sooner or better than it does or wanting a different outcome, we all have different triggers for our impatience. For me, impatience I think comes from what I sometimes call my abusive relationship with time—for some reason unknown to my conscious mind I want to cram as much as I can into each moment. But this is nuanced—I don’t multitask in the sense, for example of listening to music and reading. I do however, eat and read – and the consequence probably is that I don’t enjoy either as much as if I concentrated on one or the other. And I’ll find myself talking on the phone and wiping the counter, or doing the dishes. Doesn’t that annoy you when you are talking to someone who is on their cell phone and you hear in the background, water splashing or dishes clattering? I understand multi-tasking but part of me wants them to pay attention to me. What is more important—talking to me or getting the dishes getting done? By multitasking we may feel like we are getting more done, but in actuality, we probably just feel more stressed.
The other night I was at my cousin’s for dinner and I brought up the topic of impatience. My cousin Toby said, “I generally think of myself as a patient person, except at school (he’s a high school counselor) except when I want things to change at school.”
His son, Quinn, age 8, said, “I’m patient when I’m reading a book – I can sit and read for 3 hours without getting up, but…” and he thought a minute, “I’m impatient with people and animals.”
So we may have our own personal triggers for impatience. In your own life, take a look at the areas in your life where you are most impatient.
So let’s take a closer look common sources of impatience—planes, cars and waiting lines.
Think about the rush to get off a plane, the stampede to exit, when for most of us, all we then do is stand and wait for our luggage on the carousel.
OR DRIVING - I won’t ask how many here have gotten a speeding ticket or run a red light. Or honked at a driver who doesn’t move immediately when the light turns green. Here’s a traffic statistic I read somewhere: The annual cost of people running red lights in the United States is . . . $7 Billion. The average amount of time saved by running a red light is . . . 50 seconds.
I recently read that auto accidents are the leading cause of death of teens and young adults. Half of those killed weren’t wearing seat belts—is it too much trouble to fasten a seat belt?
And 40% of the teens who were driving were texting or talking on their phones. This is a serious indictment of our digital age. We get a new internet server because it’s faster.
We all suffer from impatience. We don’t like to wait.
Perhaps a particular annoyance is the automated message systems. You call the your doctor’s office, because you feel ill, and a perky, slightly sultry recorded female voice reassures you, “Your call is very important to us and will be answered in the order it was received. And you find yourself cursing silently, or sometimes in my case, talking back to the machine. “Well hurry up, I haven’t got all day.” The late George Carlin (some dubbed the dean of counter cultural comedians) who was awarded the Mark Twain American humor award once noted:
“When someone is impatient and says, 'I haven't got all day,' I always wonder, How can that be? How can you not have all day?”
We are a hurry-up society and some of that is due no doubt to an ever fast changing technological world.
“Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic diseases of the twentieth century,” said Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Part of that psychic disease, I think comes from frustrations with our rapidly changing technological world. Just take answering machine – unheard of when I was growing up. If fact in rural Vermont – we had a 10-party line – not even a private phone line.
There are too many distractions. For example I was perusing the internet for ideas for this sermon on patience and ad popped up on the screen, for getting rid of aging spots, so I clicked on it – distractions are everywhere and our brains are hardwired to pay attention to novelty – so we go clicking on alluring ads.
Think about the food industry and how it’s changed. Fast food – drive-through and dashboard dining – unheard of 50 years ago, now commonplace. But we have pushback to fast food, such as Italian slow food movement. Several years ago my son and daughter-in law and I were eating in a five-table restaurant in the hills of Umbria – delicious meal cooked by the owners – no hurry to turn over the tables or make a profit. We waited ( me impatiently) between courses. Making money by turning over tables as quickly as possible, that wasn’t the goal.
So thinking about what is our goal when we hurry? Well often, we aren’t thinking, because impatience is a visceral emotion, not a rational decision.
Think of a recent time when you felt impatient? What were the circumstances?
What did you do? Do you have strategies for reducing the impatience?
Humor might be one strategy – not taking ourselves so seriously. If we can laugh at ourselves, we can get a bit of perspective and distance ourselves from the issue. So let’s not be too hard on ourselves in terms of patience.
A couple of humorous quips about patience.
“I’m not waiting until my hair turns white to become patient and wise. Nope, I’m dyeing my hair tonight.”
“I told her I'd wait forever for her, but that was before I found somebody else who'd give me a ride home.”
Lack of patience seems to have dogged humans since the written word.
Every spiritual tradition warns against impatience and offers parables and practices to increase our patience. The Greeks combine two words for “Be Patient” long and temper or we might say slow to anger.
Let’s consider the biblical notion of patience. It can mean longsuffering forebearance and perseverance, or not giving up and not yielding under pressure. In either case, patience reveals itself when we are willing to wait without frustration while suffering or experiencing some strong desire.
Where did the term “patience of Job” come from? It refers to Job’s refusal to condemn God, when God allows Satan to destroy Job’s wealth health and posterity his vast wealth of livestock and land, his 10 children gone and then a nasty case of the boils. Going from a rich man to a childless, gravely ill pauper overnight. Job’s three so-called friends offer him all sorts of uncomforting advice and Job dialogues, even argues with God about “why me.” In the end Job sees the error in his thinking, seeks forgiveness, and everything was restored. I will leave it to each of you to interpret the meaning for yourselves – no one way to interpret this text – it’s called exigesis – when we pull meaning for ourselves some 2000 years after its writing – what lessons might we glean from this ancient wisdom?
For me, it’s OK to rail against what feels like injustice – Job is sort of working things out for himself. Of course there is also the issue of trying to find relevance in something written more than 2000 years ago. We can question what is the context and who is the audience? Some Bible scholars feel that the Rabbis were trying to compare pagans who would bless their gods when things went well and curse them when they didn’t. In contrast, Israelites would praise God whether good or bad fortune ensued. Extracting meaning out of ancient texts is call exegesis.
So we might ask, Why is the Job story in the Bible? And from a feminist perspective we might ask what is the role of Job’s nameless wife? We might also wonder what’s with Job’s nameless wife – whose only line is to advise Job to “Curse God and die” – to just be done with it.
However, upon closer look and from a feminist theological perspective we might see that line differently. This is sometimes called reading the Bible with a hermeneutic of suspicion. Hermeneutics means interpretation.
Whose interests are being served? From a feminist point of view women get a bad rap in the Bible from Eve to Jezebel – most are what we call the bad girls of the Bible. Many remain nameless, including Job’s wife.
Looking at the role of Job’s wife with a hermeneutic of suspicion through a feminist lens, we discover some interesting aspects of biblical study. Job’s nameless wife says, "Baruch Elokhim, ve mos" which is often translated as "Curse God, and die." But the literal translation is "Bless God and die." So we might ask: Is this one of the Biblical texts which were later reinterpreted to put women in a poorer light? Is Job's wife actual very pious?
And Job’s puts her down her for being “foolish”?
We can see how views of women developed from some of these ancient texts.
Another question from a woman’s point of view is where is the compassion for her suffering? She has seen her life collapse, too. She has lost 10 children, seen the family fortune disappear, and at this point in the story her husband has a rather nasty disease and halitosis to boot – but still she stands by him.
Another biblical story relevant to patience is the fig tree story. Much of the bible uses nature and agricultural imagery, reflective of the times.
- Luke 13: 6-9
Then Jesus told this parable:
“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’
The gardener replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not you can cut it down.’”
Biblical times were agrarian—people lived close to the land—no 24 hour grocery stores or even 7-11s where we can get instant food gratification.
As someone who has had a vegetable garden every year of my life, I so appreciate looking forward to what each season has to offer. For example around March 15, I can expect the beginning of rhubarb season. Strawberries in June; raspberries in early July. There is something soul satisfying about, waiting for seasonal fruits and vegetables- rather than just grabbing strawberries and asparagus year round. It loses it’s specialness.
Gardening does teach us patience and gratitude for what we do have. For subsistence farmers bad crop years meant winter food scarcity. Today – at least for many us – there is very little food insecurity and few of those we know personally go to bed hungry.
As someone who grew up on a subsistence farm in Vermont, I learned to plan and plant carefully and to wait for the harvest. One cannot cram for a harvest. We can’t just throw seeds in the ground at the last minute and expect a successful harvest but now we don’t have to wait for our food; it’s always available. So we don’t get to practice patience with our grab and go food – there seemingly is no need for it.
Because we don’t have natural reasons for being patient, at least one Harvard professor, Jennifer Roberts claims we need to actively practice patience.
Jennifer Roberts teaches art history at Harvard. She contends that the experiences and expectations of contemporary students in the digital era call for a conscious slowing down. She makes the case for the “power of patience.” She calls this attentive discipline, perhaps might even be an antedote to ADD.
Professor Roberts says that as technology ramps up, those majoring in the humanities is shrinking – students want to focus on majors leading to employable skills and therefore aren’t interested in the humanities. So in her art history class, one of her assignments is for her students go to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts,, choose a painting and study it for 3 hours. With no distractions – I’ve never spent 3 hours observing anything, especially not a painting in an art museum. Then her students were to write a paper on what they saw and learned.
Her purpose is to create opportunities for students to engage in deceleration, patience, and immersive attention. She contends that these kinds of practices) need to be actively engineered by faculty, because they simply are no longer available “in nature.” Every external pressure, social and technological, is pushing students in the other direction, toward immediacy, rapidity, and spontaneity and she wants to give them the permission and the structures to slow down.
She herself did her own assignment and spent three hours in front of a 1700s painting called “Boy with a Flying Squirrel” and realized how much more she saw by spending uninterrupted time looking at one painting. For example she noted that the folds in the curtain mirrored the folds of the boy’s ear. She made the point that looking is not necessarily seeing and seeing requires actively being patient.
Roberts makes the point, which I’d not thought about until I read about her, that historically patience was seen as a passive endeavor – forebearance – of the grit your teeth and bear it mode. Now, she says, patience needs to be an active process. Job or the fig tree parable are more of the passive patience.
But in today’s technological world, removed as we are from nature, we now need to be actively engaged in the practice of patience.
So how might we do that? What can we do to create more patience in our lives?
First, I’d suggest:
DIGITAL DETOX – Would the world fall apart if you didn’t turn on your computer, or answer your phone for a day? Are you really that important?
Next, TURN OFF our weapons of mass distraction. Roberts had her students go to the museum rather than just pick a painting on line so they wouldn’t be distracted.
As an aside, do you know how much energy those cable boxes (some 224 million in the U.S.) that sit on your computer use? I recently read that are the second biggest electricity hogs, after air conditioners. Americans are spending some $12 billion a year on electricity to run various technology devices in their homes.
Besides unplugging ourselves, meditation and Yoga are good spiritual practices, neither of which I’m very good at or faithful to. I just flat out don’t meditate. And I’m a sporadic yoga attendee. Carol our yoga instructor reminds us of the value of yoga as a way to practice patience. Yoga does help me see how impatient I am and it does ease and relax both my mind, body and spirit.
Carol our yoga instructor might introduce a yoga session on patience by saying:
“Of all the negative emotions we deal with, impatience is the most prominent. We see it in toddlers, business people, parents, and seniors. We see it in our yoga practice.
“As a society we struggle with impatience because our action are uncontrolled and out of tune with the reality of now. Our minds are preoccupied with the worries and anxieties of yesterday or tomorrow and it’s difficult to involve ourselves in the present. Rather than live in the moment we want things to be faster, better and flow more smoothly. It’s as though we’re in a cosmic disagreement with how things are really happening. We need to realize that in order to expand our level of patience, we must learn to accommodate the moment.”
Yoga is a good and systematic approach to regaining patience. We begin to notice those body sensations of impatience. We learn how to wait and let our bodies open at their own pace. In yoga we are taught that when impatience-driven anxiety comes up rather than push the thought away we are just to become mindful of the impatience and understand that like all moments this one will pass.
Concentrating on our breathing and understanding the mind-body connection I find helpful when I’m feeling impatient. It really does bring me back to the moment – for truly this moment right here and now is the only one with have.
The world's spiritual traditions tell us that patience is a good thing to have especially in times of stress and difficulty. Yet it is human nature to want things to change for the good, right now, not in some distant time.
Thus let us commit ourselves to the spiritual practice of patience.
Let us more deeply embrace and value the power of patience.
Let us make a commitment to rest, to reflect, to listen, to see deeply. Patience is not just a virtue that we hope someday we’ll discover instantly – but an essential practice necessary for a fulfilling spiritual life. Patience is more than to wait.
Patience is also an active conscious practice of deceleration, and immersive attention.
We need to practice patience because patience teaches us about not needing to use aggression or anger, it teaches us kindness. The practice of patience, with ourselves and with others, is an essential way we practice lovingkindness.
The practice and power of patience is the humble exercise of persistence, of not giving up, a practice of faith in our ability to slow down and to remind of ourselves of what is really important in life.
“A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen