The Christian Virtue of Patience and Long Suffering

I came across a section in a book I´m reading on worldviews for my Bachelor´s Degree in Intercultural Understanding, and wanted to share it with you since I believe it beautifully expresses some insight into the Christian virtue of patience that easily gets lost in our day and time.

“One of the most difficult fruits of the Spirit that we as modern people need to cultivate is patience. We live our lives with constant hurry and stress. As children we associate patience with having to wait until our parents come home, the bus arrives, or the rain stops. We associate it with powerlessness, the inability to act, and a general state of passivity and dependence. As adults we associate it with waiting passively until someone in power decided to move on: we regard patience “as an oppressive word used by the powerful to keep the powerless under control” (McNeill, Morrison, and Nouwen inCompassion: A reflection on the Christian life). This is not what patience means in Scripture. Donald McNeill and his associates observe:

True patience is the opposite of a passive waiting in which we let things happen and allow others to make the decisions. Patience means to enter actively into the thick of life and to fully bear the suffering within and around us. Patience is the capacity to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell as fully as possible the inner and outer events of our lives. It is to enter our lives with open eyes, ears and hands so that we can really know what is happening. Patience is an extremely difficult discipline precisely because it counteracts our unreflexive impulse to flee or to fight.

Patience is a difficult virtue to incorporate into our way of living not only because it goes against our impulses but also because it radically challenges the fast pace of modern life and its concern for staying in control of one´s life. Patience involves learning to listen to and live under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It requires stopping and listening when someone in pain needs immediate attention. It requires searching for forgiveness without having to forget shameful memories. It is “a willingness to be influenced even when this requires giving up control and entering into unknown territory” (McNeill, Morrison, and Nouwen in Compassion: A reflection on the Christian life).

Patience concerns time. When we are impatient, we want things to change. Impatience betrays an inner restlessness. It is living by the external time rules by the clocks, watches, and calendars that dominate our lives. Patience and contemplation are time lived from within and experiences to the full. They are the antidote to the hurried, harried lives we too often live in our contemporary world.“

The text is found in Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change by Paul G. Hiebert


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