Deep breath, count to ten: How patience will change the world

My grandma always scolded, “Never pray for patience, because God will give you opportunities to practice.”

Now before you get images of a sweet timid little Mennonite woman knitting in a rocker, you have to imagine a frontierswoman, in the eastern plains of Colorado, planting wheat one moment and cutting the head off of a rattlesnake with a hoe the next.

And no, she was not Mennonite, more like a Pentecostal, ex-Catholic/Presbyterian holy roller type.

She was neither sweet nor timid, but fierce, stubborn, bold, and impatient.

She was a woman of God and knew that patience was supposed to be a virtue, but for her part there just wasn’t enough time in the day to wait for it to manifest itself in her being.

And so it went. Our family stories celebrated our lack of patience as a distinct family trait. Our family is hot headed, mouthy, and always in a hurry to get stuff done.

Maybe that’s where I get my Enneagram 8, the Challenger. It comes honestly. For those of you who are not familiar with the Enneagram, the seminal speaker and writer Nadia Bolz Weber puts it the best when she describes 8s as those of us who get road rage while walking in a prayer labyrinth when people go too slow.

That’s me.

So, imagine what it is like to read Alan Kreider’s The Patient Ferment of the Early Church (Baker Academic, 2016) and learn that the Early Church prized patience as one of the most distinctly Christian virtues. Not only was it central, but it was one of the first treatises they wrote, writing three in total (Kreider, 1-2).

It wasn’t just the first thing they wrote about, but it was in reality the method in which they designed their catechesis process.

Those who wanted to join the church had to wait until they proved their lifestyle and habits were sufficiently Christ-like to be worthy of baptism. In fact, they were not allowed to even worship with the Body of Believers or pray with them until they were baptized (Kreider, 148-149).

Imagine that kind of commitment, let alone patience a person would need to demonstrate in order to achieve baptism.

This would be unheard of today in the world of church growth and seeker services, BUT equally unheard of in our community-oriented Mennonite churches that are afraid of turning anyone away.

(We will save my tirade for consumerism and capitalism as the driving force of the contemporary church for another blog).

But they believed that Jesus was the embodiment of patience. What else would allow him to be held unjustly, tortured, and brutally murdered without retaliation?

But let’s go one simpler… What more than patience would it have taken for this rabbi to maintain his composure with students who lived with him for three years and still didn’t get it!

And even more simply; every interaction he has with those who oppose him is a practice of patience.

Seriously, I would go off! I have gone off! It’s not pretty.

Kreider explains that the Early Church believed that patience was not only embodied in Christ, but also clearly who God is.

God’s covenant with Israel alone is a testament to God’s unstoppable and unwavering patience.

Indeed, the Early Church believed that patience manifested in the lives of believers was the most uniquely Christian witness against the Greco-Roman culture.

In the age of the “Karen” archetypal persona, imagine what this virtue could do for the witness of Christ’s Church today. Pastors can testify that every church has its surplus of Karens (or their male counterparts).

  • How do we manifest this Christ-like patience in such a way that people are either intrigued or grateful, or grateful and intrigued?
  • What impact would this have on our families, who get the worst of us after a long day of being on our best behavior?
  • How do we grow into the likeness of Christ, who clearly demonstrated a patient invitational Presence?

I knew patience was a virtue, but I also knew I couldn’t pray for patience. So, I decided to choose when to be patient as a way to grow my discipline of patience.

One year for lent I chose to grow my patience. I chose the longest line in the grocery store. I chose the longest line on the toll road. I drove the speed limit. I patiently walked slowly behind the lollygaggers in the grocery store. I chose to be kind and considerate to the customer service representative even after long waits on hold. I chose to set my work aside and listen to my children when they wanted my attention.

Choosing patience helped. I became patient.

When I began losing my patience in ministry and with my family it should have been the first warning of my inevitable burnout.

The more burned out I became, the more I returned to the base nature of my family of origin. I became hot headed, mouthy, and always in a hurry to get stuff done. This isn’t a good look for a pastor.

Now I can feel impatience growing inside of me. I now know that means I need to attend to my patient practices. Lack of patience is truly a symptom of a greater problem and I’ve learned to look for the source of my angst.

What if we as a followers of Jesus Christ, committed to taking a deep breath, counting to ten and trusting in doing so, our witness could change the world?

Who would notice?