P is for “Patience”

This is an entry in the “Acrostic Contemplations.

Patience; I don’t have much of it. At least it doesn’t feel that way to me. I have been told by some that they think I am extremely patient and careful, taking my time with people and projects to wait for the best to come out. Except I know that this is not often true, hardly ever, really. Usually, with some mix of impatience and a heavy dose of anxiety, I push and rush, eager to get on, get past the assignment or conflict. My school work was (and sadly is) often a mix of very careful and thoughtful research and reflection completed in a made rush to simply get it done. Patience, however, is more than simply working slow and methodically through something, whether that be a problem or a relationship.

Most dictionary references for “patience” list something like “bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint” as the very first entry, before forbearance, steadfastness, and standing against adversity. Patience is more about enduring through and in spite of something than it is carefully completing an assignment or quietly sitting with a friend. Resistance is required for plodding to become patience. It is when we endure and persevere with our circumstances in life, regardless of our circumstances in life, that we are truly patient. My methodical and thoughtful research of some esoteric point, written up, day by day, with verified footnotes, and finally submitted on time is not an example of patience. Getting up, out of bed in the morning, when I am weary and grieving, showering, putting on clothes and going to work; that is patience.

Perhaps the most well known bit of the Psalms during the 1980s and 90s is from Psalm 40, made famous by U2 in the song of the same name. (Although in high school and college, more than once, I was told, “They called it ‘40’ because they laid down the track in only 40 minutes man.”) The English versions of the King James and the NRSV open with a similar refrain, “I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.” The Hebrew is not a direct equivalent to the English “patience,” rather it has the duplication (for intensification) of the verb “to wait” or “to hope,” קַוֹּה קִוִּיתִי יְהוָה. The root of the word has the sense of “taut” or “tension” (see BDB and HALOT) so the “waiting, waiting for the LORD” that the psalmist is expressing is not the lounging while skimming through Instagram kind of waiting; it is the anxious, pacing the floor, handwringing, what-is-taking-God-so-long kind of tense waiting. Patience is not necessarily quiet or even calm, but it is persistent in the face of tragedy and hardship.

Lamentations has at its pivotal point in its pivot point the same Hebrew term, “The LORD is good to those who wait (לְקוָוֹ לְנֶפֶשׁ) for him, to the soul that seeks him.” This is uttered in the midst of remembering and lamenting the complete destruction and desolation of tens of thousands of people holed up in Jerusalem, after declaring “I am the one who has seen affliction under God’s wrath.” In that context, the poet says that God is good to those who wait for him. It is not a susserating resignation or a quiet defeat that is being extolled by the author, but the taut and nervous expectation and declaration that, even after all of devastating loss, God will hear our cries and respond, sending help, comfort, and ultimately peace.

Patience is not passive, it is not placid, it is not even quiet. Patience is the tense and anxious perseverance through hardship and challenge with confidence and faith, with grace and calm, that comes from the confidence that, in spite of it all, through it all, in the end all will be well.

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