Patience as a Virtue
St Paul places “love is patient” way ahead of all other virtues like kindness, compassion, courtesy, generosity and humility. Why does St Paul stress that patience is the first and foremost definition of love? Has St Paul got it all wrong? Is love possible without patience? Is patience all that important?
In our fast paced modern life, we have to complete our projects ahead of competitors. We carry this behavior trait back to our family and we are impatient when we do not get our way. We expect our spouse to cater to us immediately after one reminder or two. When we don’t get what we want and at the time desired, we become irritated or angry. But being patient means allowing, accommodating and accepting the other person’s ideas, values and mannerism. So we need to constantly remind ourselves: “Am I loving when I don’t accommodate my spouse’s ways? Do I show love when I don’t accept my spouse’s point of view?” We know for certain that we do not practice love at that particular moment since a loving heart is a patient heart.
Misunderstanding and conflict come to everyone and inevitably happen in our homes and in our lives. People are people. Some are downright mean, many are inconsiderate and selfish. And we will inevitably run into such people. Their meanness and inconsideration could make us angry, give up on people or sad. If we let that happen, life for us will come to a standstill or be a prison. As St Paul says, “Sadness . . .causes death” (2 Corinthians 7:10 TEV).
Then there are other people who afflict us just by their behavior. They are arrogant, self-righteous, judgmental, like the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector (Luke 18:9-14 TEV). They look down on others, are snobbish, condemn others, spurn them, speak evil against them. That was the way most scribes and Pharisees treated Jesus.
Jesus could have hit back, but He did not. And that is what patience really is.
However, we have often thought that the people around us are stupid or do stupid things. Have we ever said, “He or she drives me up the wall!” “He means well, but he gets on my nerves.” Or we complain, “Why, they would even make an angel lose his patience!”
Yes, we are losing our cool when we think like that. We are angry and we want to hit back.
But, we need patience just to survive in life. For patience also means enduring, bearing, accepting and suffering the hurts, cuts, slights, injuries inflicted by people. For instance:
An employee stomachs a tyrannical boss—just to earn a living.
A salesman puts up with all kinds of abuse—–just to make a sale.
Red Indians used to endure frightful tortures—–just to become “a brave,”
Stoics suppressed their feelings—–just to be considered “manly.”
Such endurance may be laudable, but it is not necessarily virtuous. For, what makes patience a virtue is its motive: love of God. “Love is patient,” that is, true Christian patience has to be an expression of love, of love of God.
True patience does not merely endure the hurts and injuries; rather it embraces them with love. When we cover the hurts and cuts with love, we suck out the venom in them from our heart. We refuse to allow the hurts to rankle and work mischief in our heart. We don’t allow revenge and resentment to poison us. Instead we focus on the love of God and let it fill our heart to forgive the person who injures us. Instead of sorrow, there is joy—–joy in knowing that evil has been turned into good.
Can we achieve this true patience that we so desire? Not if we depend on our own strength alone. What we need is to pray to Jesus and work with Jesus over this. We depend on His strength to carry us through one incident at a time and over time it will be easier for us to forgive.
Thus, in order to be able to develop this true loving patience we have to learn to forgive readily and endlessly. As Mother Teresa said, “if we really want to love, we must learn to forgive before anything else.” (One heart full of love, 113) “We must make our homes centers of compassion and forgive endlessly.” (“A Gift for God”, 18)