Patience has never been my virtue. Sometimes I blame my Irish temper. Other times, it is a lack of sleep. More often than not, it is the crazy juggle of work, kids, home and career.
Anyone who comes in our home will watch me lose it at least five times a day. They might shudder as I slide into sharp retorts with my preschooler’s zillionth request for “just one more” whatever. They might watch me explode in five seconds flat when my toddler wails and hurls his spoon across the floor, flinging food as it flies.
I pray every day to practice patience better, to mother more mindfully, to breathe more deeply and live more calmly. But I am still a painfully slow “work-in-process” in the patience department.
Recently I read another mother’s words about patience being a willingness to suffer. Familiar tears pricked the corners of my eyes as they often do whenever someone else’s wisdom shoots straight to the center of a truth I have not yet named. Which is, that this must be precisely my problem with patience: I hate to suffer.
When my kids’ whining is grating on my last nerve, the pasta pot is about to bubble over, the phone is ringing off the hook and the dog is dancing in circles underfoot begging to go outside, I do not want to suffer in the moment one second longer. I want to scream and stomp my feet and make it stop. But what would happen if I were willing to rest in the discomfort for a minute? What if I were to acknowledge the aggravating annoyances and live in the suffering of imperfection? What if I could try giving into a willingness to suffer?
I thought back on times when I have lived with suffering. The agonizing wait of infertility. The darkness of depression during pregnancy. The aching loss of people I love. I have known something about suffering, and I have made it through. Could I do the same with the small sufferings of my every day?
I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I gave it a whirl.
That very day, the witching hour crept in devilishly early. Both boys were tired and hungry, dinner loomed unplanned, urgent work emails kept flying in after I was supposed to be finished for the day. I could feel the tightening in my pulse, the rising rush of impatience ready to blast out of my mouth with angry words.
As quickly as I could, I tried to think about what it meant to be willing to suffer. I took a deep breath and realized I had the power to decide whether I was willing to stay in the moment I was so desperate to escape, whether I was willing to suffer these small annoyances out of love.
I turned to my whining boys, crying as they knocked into each other around the kitchen counter. I saw how small, tired and hungry they were. I dropped down in front of their scrunched-up faces and whispered, “Should we all take a deep breath? We’re all in this together.”
“No, Mama,” declared my oldest, suddenly straightening up to assert himself quite seriously. “We should take FIVE deep breaths.” I had to bite my cheek to keep from laughing. Of course. He always gets it quicker than I do.
Since then I’ve been trying a little more each day. I have been trying to sit in the squirmy uncomfortableness of suffering. I’ve been trying to pause and remember that patience might not be something I say, but something I stay and do.
Perhaps, contrary to what I’ve believed all these years, patience isn’t about attaining a perfectly Zen attitude towards life’s troubles. Patience isn’t the ability to breeze right over the bothersome bumps that arise. Quite the opposite. Patience, it turns out, might be about sitting right in the middle of the suffering and refusing to escape it for something easier. Because, the suffering might be where the best part of love is, too.
Question: Where in your life might you be able to start practicing patience in small ways this week?
Challenge: The next time you ask your kids to wait or be patient, stop and ask yourself if you are doing the same.