Many of us seem to lack patience. Is patience even a thing? Doesn’t everyone you know confess to being impatient? Red lights, long lines, other people’s lack of understanding—these things cause us throw our hands up, roll our eyes and fly into a rage. I’ll bet it is one of the most frequent things priests hear in confession.
But what is impatience really? Is impatience even a thing? Are we confusing not liking to wait with impatience? Imagine a situation that would normally cause you to become what you call impatient. It really comes down to not getting what we want on our schedule, doesn’t it?
What does your impatience look like? For some it involves bad language and rising blood pressure. For others, maybe hitting something or yelling. Still others may close up stiffly and sulk. A strain on our patience generally brings out the toddler in us.
I don’t think impatience is a thing in itself at all. Confessing it could be a waste of time. Like many a medical “syndrome”, impatience is a catch all word for the many forms pride may take when waiting is involved. It is the grown-up version of a two-year-old meltdown. And it’s time we grow out of it.
Did I really say confessing impatience is a waste of time?? Well, it could be! If you’re not working to understand what it really is and root it out, confessing “impatience” might just be giving you permission to carry on acting that way and confessing it again and again. And again.
When you think of patience, what do you imagine? What would patient person look and act like in a situation that usually brings out the impatience in you? You probably imagine someone with a serene countenance, maybe even smiling gently. If it’s as simple as smiling—a genuine, relaxed smile, as opposed to a finger-tapping, smirk—then what is keeping us from just practicing that when our patience is tried? It’s going to take more than a gentle smile to overcome this.
Because impatience isn’t just impatience, it’s pride. It is giving in—in a flash of temptation—to the belief that I am above this!! I am too important to wait! I want it now!! ME!!
How can we expect to overcome these tendencies toward pride if we don’t call them by the right name? How can we pray for patience to replace impatience, when impatience is just a label we put on the real collection of specific sins that cause our ugly reaction when we are called on to wait?
We should pray for patience—it is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23. Like impatience, patience may be a collection of the virtues that we lack in those situations. And we should also identify, pray for and practice those virtues which, when we develop them, will crowd out the old, prideful response we recognize as impatience. These virtues begin foremost with humility and include the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance as applied to the situations that bring out our raging self-indulgent tempers.
In justice, we should consider who we really are in the big scheme of things. We are not God. We owe Him all that we are and to our neighbor we owe the respect for his human dignity. Practicing temperance will allow us to grow in our ability to do without satisfying our every desire. Fortitude will enable us to go longer and stronger in our resistance to the temptation to want it now. Prudence gives us the ability to respond rightly according to reason. We ought to pray for—and practice—these virtues and ask the Holy Spirit for the fruit of patience as evidence that we are growing in them.
We should also confess our occasions of impatience, but perhaps it would be more fruitful and life changing to confess the deeper roots of our impatient behavior. Think of the actual occasions of your impatience. Was it really haughtiness? Was it thinking yourself better than someone else? Was it giving in to anger over a frustrating situation? Try to identify the specific sins you usually lump together as impatience. Confess those. Perhaps then, it will gradually cease to be the sin we take back to confession again and again. And again.