My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:2-5)
Patience is a virtue, but a virtue which escapes many of us in the time of need. Life offers many trials which test our patience but also give us plenty of opportunities to practice it. Practicing patience means exercising self-control. Usually our emotions surge in us in response to events or people, and we can’t stop them from arising. What we can control is what we do when our emotions are stirred up. Being completely calm in every situation may be beyond the abilities of most of us, but we can force ourselves to respond with calmness and patience. It takes a lot of energy and work to be calm and patient!
[Recently a friend sent me a cartoon comic of a man kneeling, hands clasped in prayer and he was saying something to the effect: “Lord, grant me patience. Not opportunities to be patient, I’ve had plenty of those and they haven’t helped. But give me patience…” It does seem God generously gives us opportunities to be patient, rather than giving us patience itself.]
In the desert fathers we encounter this story about a monk whose patience was being tested daily by the thoughts arising in his heart. He in turn vexes his elder by continually coming to him with the same problem.
A certain brother vexed an old man several times by saying to him, ‘What shall I do in respect of the wicked and filthy thoughts of all sorts and kinds which go through me?’ And the old man answered him, ‘You are like a stagnant pool which is at one time filled with water, and which at another, when water has been drawn from it, runs dry. Why can’t you not rather be like the spring which never fails? Patient persistence is victory, and victory is constancy, and constancy is life, and life is kingdom, and kingdom is God.’ (adapted from E.A. Budge, THE PARADISE OF THE HOLY FATHERS, p 245)
We are constantly being tested or tempted by events in life. We thus have constant opportunity to practice patience. Rather than railing against life and its events, we can use the events to learn and practice patience!