Patience is fruit of the spirit
By Brooke Stacia Demott
Around a table, a gaggle of 4 year olds fidget and squirm, waiting. A woman enters the room, smiles, and places a large marshmallow in front of each child. “If you like, you may eat this now,” she said. “If you wait 10 minutes, I will give you something better.” She leaves.
One child grabs for the marshmallow. Several others follow suit; only two decide to wait. Ten minutes passes. The woman returns, rewarding each patient child with two marshmallows. The others realize their mistake.
This was a real control study done some years ago to determine the kids’ ability to be patient. Let’s unpack it.
The kids who took the marshmallow represent most of us. We live in the most impatient nation, in the most impatient era in history.
Why waste time saving, when you can charge it? In fact, why wait for anything? The Internet gives us shopping, entertainment and information at the touch of a button, anytime, anywhere. We can have it all, right now! We are on a break-neck pace to achieve and acquire, and rarely stop to ask ourselves, is this really for the best?
The patient child is an admirable rarity. He demonstrates restraint, hope, and trust. He exhibits maturity and even a degree of wisdom. He is what we want to be — calm, assured, and purposeful.
From a distance, we can see that patience has value. Patience represents a heart at rest.
So, what makes us impatient? I see four underlying causes.
— Boredom. In the context of the marshmallow test, “There’s nothing to do in this room.”
Our days belong to mundane moments, punctuated occasionally with the possibility of the exciting. If we see something we want, we’ll grab at it immediately, even knowing we might regret it later. Think pornography, Big Macs, or a home we can’t afford.
Grab it … fast!
— Distrust. “She’s probably lying. I’d better take what’s in front of me.”
Interestingly, it is she who gave the small gift — which promised a bigger one — with a caveat of trust. Perhaps we have been lied to in the past, disappointed by people we trusted. Now, we don’t trust God to provide, either. Our sight is marred by the fact that every good thing we have was given by God, as a reminder of the greater good He has planned.
— Discontent, or the birthplace of compulsive behavior. Life seems happier for people who have better bodies, jobs, kids, marriages, etc. Solace is sought in quick-fix diets and shopping sprees that leave us depleted instead of fulfilled.
— Anxiety, or the frantic belief that you are missing out. “If I don’t eat that, I’ll regret it.”
Worry, that drives reaction. We fret about losing an opportunity, and that’s when panic drives us to make reckless decisions.
Is there any hope for us, steeped in years of impulse living, to learn patience? The kids who were given the promise of a better reward couldn’t handle the wait — and we don’t even have that assurance. Or do we?
“Do not grow weary in doing good. For you will reap a harvest in due time, if you don’t give up.” (Galatians 6)
Patience is the fruit of God’s spirit; if we are going to get it, we’re going to have to get it from God.
To develop patience, we must … wait for it …
That’s it. We must wait for it.
The only way to learn patience is to practice waiting. God will put us in situations to practice by leaving us uncomfortably without answers, but with assurance. “Wait for the Lord, and He will deliver you.”
Waiting, like everything else in God’s economy, is a learning experience. There is beauty in the interim unknown; it is in the waiting that we are built.
Here’s what you’ll learn when you practice waiting.
— Contentment: Grumble through life, and disappointment will become your constant companion. Much of our lives depend on our perspective; life is as beautiful as you choose to see it.
— Trust: God’s blessings — large or small — are only a shadow of His extravagant and grand promise of a blissful eternity after this life has ended. Even the best days are just the “marshmallow” by comparison.
— Clear planning: When you panic, your plans are scattered. When you wait, you can make a thoughtful and purposeful decision about how to proceed.
— Gratitude: When gratitude lights up your life, it casts a shadow over those potential idyllic scenarios that drive your discontent. The grass begins to look vividly green on your side.
Patience believes in the good result it has yet to experience, and is satisfied with the promise.
• Brooke Stacia Demott is a columnist with In Good Health newspaper. Got a question for Demott? Feel free to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.