My mother told me when I was young to “Never pray for patience. If you do, God will surely give you something to be patient about.” I completely understand what she meant. It is not that I believe that God sends us tests or trials in our lives to teach us things, because I don’t. What I do believe is that, when we pray for something that we desire (good or bad), we begin to notice its absence in our lives.
The author of the book of Psalms (Chap. 37) writes that we should “wait patiently" on the Lord. This is a hard concept for many people because we have to answer the question “what exactly are we waiting for God to do?” Some Christians would suggest that we are waiting for God to provide a job, bring about world peace, or the truly impossible, a Seahawks Super Bowl win.
However, this kind of interpretation is unfaithful to the text. Waiting, in the eyes of the psalmist, isn’t about sitting around doing nothing. Instead, waiting is actively watching and anticipating how God will act through faithful people (even people like us). It takes energy to keep our eyes focused as we watch for God’s good work in the world.
Just as my mother taught me to count to 10 (or 10,000) when I needed to be a bit more patient, there are ways that we can learn to be more patient in our spiritual lives as well. One of the ways we can do this is by practicing a spiritual discipline in our lives. There are a variety of disciplines one can engage including prayer, meditation, bible reading, and journaling.
One particular discipline that can help with patience is called a breath prayer. This kind of prayer is short and is said in two parts. For example, one might say the traditional Jesus Prayer—“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God – have mercy on me a sinner.” The first half is said while one breathes in and the other half is prayed when one breathes out. The value of this type of prayer is that the intentional breathing itself will calm and relax us. If practiced on a regular basis, it becomes a reflex when we are anxious or just need a bit of patience.
As we become patient with others, whether in our ordinary lives or our spiritual lives, we encourage others to become more patient as well. And while we all can use a little patience during that morning commute, I take comfort in knowing that there are concrete ways for me to develop it. Perhaps, if we all worked on having more patience, the world around us might become a more tolerant, and loving, place.