The habit of Patience

So far this Advent, every pastor’s column has explored one of the many gifts that await us under the tree, that is, the cross of Christ. And there are some awesome gifts – to name the ones mentioned in previous weeks – forgiveness and mercy. Now we have arrived at the Third Week of Advent, Gaudete Sunday! The name comes from wording in Philippians 4:4 – Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!  It is another week, and another gift awaits. Like any kid in the days leading up to Christmas you have begun to peer under the tree, assessing the shapes, sizes and weight of gifts – and guessing what could possibly be under wraps. You have to wonder what other awesome gift is waiting right there under the tree, the cross of Christ. Let’s open up another gift!  But wait…it’s not Christmas yet.  What’s the rush? Christmas is only over a week away. Of course, when I was 7 years old, “only a week” seemed liked a lifetime. Now that I am 67, “only a week” is but the blink of an eye. I am much more patient about most things…. Not all things, most things. So, what’s the rush? Maybe we should practice a little patience?

“Patience is a virtue.” We’re all familiar with that expression, and many of us know that patience is listed by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23 as among the fruit of the Spirit. So, there’s no disputing that the Christian ought to be patient. But is it necessary to practice a virtue? Let me simply say that my experience as a priest listening to folks in all phases of life – and looking at my own life – we forever underestimate the power of “habit” over us.  The question is just: is it a good habit or a bad habit? Which is another way of asking – is the habit formed by a virtue, a fruit of the Spirit or formed in other, less holy ways?

Let’s return to the virtue of patience. Think about the nuisances you face on a daily basis. A person or set of circumstances that would test “the patience of Job” – I mean “can’t they see what they are doing?”  “How hard is this to figure out?”  “Pay attention!” “Why did I take I-275 (substitute I-4, I-75, Veterans, Frankland Bridge or your particular favorite….)” – and ultimate test of patience in the Tampa metro region, getting out of the Dale Mabry Whole Foods/PetSmart/HomeGoods parking lot during the Christmas shopping season. If your most likely response is to give into impatience, boil over into some complaint, rant, pithy comment, lecture, or demonstration of your degree of annoyance – then your habit is to leave the virtue of patience by the side. Your thoughts become your actions, which become your habits, which form your character, which leaves you as the person you have become. If you have let your impatience move into habitual action, you are becoming an expert in impatience! Congratulations?

Will you give into the temptation of impatience? The habit of giving in makes it a lot easier to join in the downhill rush from the thought of impatience (which at that point is just a temptation) into sin – mostly likely against Charity. We always underestimate the power of habit. But remember this: all such moments are ever surrounded by the grace of God in superabundance. You just have to remind yourself to choose grace…or better yet, you have to develop the deep habit of patience. And maybe the gift awaiting you is the workout list for developing patience. What might be on that list?

Keep a scorecard. Make marks in a won/loss column. Win = I accepted grace and let the moment pass. Loss = impatience gave way to cross words and drowned out Charity. I suspect that your daily/weekly scores will have more in the “win” column and thinking about those “wins” can make you more aware of your impulses, you can work out an alternative reaction.

Figure out your triggers. As you become more aware of losing your patience, pay close attention to the things that trigger you to lose that patience. Certain triggers will recur more frequently than others — these are the things you should focus on the most.

Deep breaths. When you first start to lose your patience, take a deep breath, and breathe out slowly. Then take another. And another. Your frustration will slowly melt away. Or try its first cousin, Count to 10. When you feel yourself getting frustrated or angry, count slowly to 10

Start small. Don’t try to become as patient overnight. It won’t happen. Start with something small and manageable. One trigger at a time, practice the habits above, and with practice, you’ll get there. Then pick another trigger and address that one.

Take a time out. Often, it’s best just to walk away for a few minutes. Take a break from the situation, just for 5-10 minutes, let yourself calm down, plan out your words and actions and solution, and then come back calm as a monk.

Remember what’s important. Sometimes we tend to get upset over little things. In the long run, these things tend not to matter, but in the heat of the moment, we might forget this. Keep things in perspective.

Keep practicing. Form the new habit.

Prayer. I saved the best for last. During those deep breaths, pray. During the “count to 10,” pray. During the “time out”, pray.  When keeping score, pray. Pray to remember what is important. Pray to remember to practice. Prayer – just do it!

Here on Gaudete Sunday, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess 5:16-18).`Tis always the season for prayer.

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