Recently, when the person in front of me at the grocery store Self-Scan didn’t put their bananas in the bag fast enough, I nearly lost my mind.
Seriously. I thought my neurons were going to explode and set all of the grocery stores in the world on fire. Then this guy paid with cash. Dollar in. Ohhhh. Still too crumbly. Try again. Dollar in. Dollar out. Dollar in. Quarter. Receipt. Put cash in pocket. My mind nearly splintered.
And I teach middle school kids. If anyone should have the patience for bagging bananas, it should be me.
We’ve all been taught that “patience is a virtue.” That sentiment is scrawled throughout Scripture too in its own wording, such as Galatians’ list of the Fruits of the Spirit, and probably in a million other places that I’m too impatient to look up right now.
And this is one of those Christian virtues that goes over well outside of Christian circles. Nobody’s arguing that patience is a result of religious brainwashing.
And yet patience comes easier to some of us than others. There’s a breed of people who were born with a genetic propensity towards being cavalier and laid-back. Some of us don’t mind when our friends take 6 hours to put on mascara or when we’re behind a car that is moving slower than a crawling baby.
And then there are others of us—the category of people into which I fall—where patience is a daily, momentary, second-by-second struggle. It takes deep breaths and prayers and eye closing and counting backwards and then more prayers. Prayers on prayers on prayers on prayers.
And for those of us, the patience of waiting in line at the DMV or of biting your tongue while being harangued by a disgruntled friend, this patience seems to be something that can be lined. Over time, perhaps. It’s not just a character trait. It’s a learned quality. You have to practice it, over and over. God puts us in situations that require us to develop tolerance and peacefulness; he helps guide us through moments as we grow up and grow old and grow closer to Him. He puts challenging people in our lives. He places us in jobs and scenarios in which we will learn—kicking and screaming—and our brains might want to explode.
But we learn.
So what about the patience we never thought would be asked of us? What about the long term patience—the trust of a God we don’t always understand, the waiting for something we might not even know we’re waiting for?
Like waiting on the hopeful healing of a loved one? Or slumping through singleness wondering why everyone else is getting married when here you are, a perfectly eligible creation of God, and yet are reading Us Weekly alone? What happens then? What happens when the patience that God calls us to is no longer within our whims of understanding? Where we truly don’t know what exactly we’re waiting for and how long we might be waiting?
It’s the same patience required of the Israelites when their own unfaithfulness resulted in their wandering in a desert for forty years. Or, for that matter, from Christ for forty days. These Old Testament triumphs are outlandishly impressive—how could God ever expect the same kind of understanding from me?
More importantly, do I have any real say in the matter?
Maybe a parent is waiting on a rebellious child to come home. Or maybe we are waiting on a friend or a spouse or a family member to return from the swallow of depression. It’s told to us many-a-time while David clings to his emotional roller coaster in Psalm 130:5: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope.”
And so, I’ve been waiting on Him for a while for a lot of things. I’m not always sure where He is. (If I had to guess though, it’s between me and that guy at the Self-Scan, preventing a potential felony.) I do know, however, that we are told to be still. We are told to take heart. We are told to wait. Sit patiently and wait. Like a child in a school, fold your hands and wait.
What do we do in the meantime? We pray. We read. We listen and hope and take heart and sit still and hold hands and bow heads and bend knees and sing songs and whisper truths and wrap arms around each other and lean unsteadily on the trust we have built, slipshod or not, and be so thankful that there is a God who is there to trust at all.
Liz Riggs is a freelance writer and English teacher in Nashville, Tenn. She eats stories like grapes and has a very serious appreciation for macaroni and cheese. Follow her on Twitter at your own risk @riggser.