“Have patience with all things, but, first of all with yourself” Saint Francis de Sales
Patience is a funny concept. Margaret Thatcher is quoted as saying “I’m extraordinarily patient provided I get my own way in the end.” Is that patience or persistence? I tend to think of that as persistent. Not giving up on what you want.
I think patience is different. As Saint Francis de Sales indicated; patience includes being patient with yourself. The first time I really thought about this concept was when I went through my divorce. I was at the end of my forties. I was facing being fifty. I had been married for 31 years. I had not dated anyone else for 33 years. In many ways I was terrified. I wondered ‘what if I make mistakes?’
My married life was wrapped up in a very conservative church. While the church taught that we were all sinners saved by grace, it behaved as though everyone had to be perfect. My husband was on staff at those churches. We were trained to be very perfect. When you are on the staff of these churches you live in a fish bowl. Everyone sees what you do and they all have an opinion. You may have heard the saying; three baptists-four opinions. You wear yourself out trying to please so many people. In fact, I often lost sight as to what I really thought or believed as I was so busy trying to pass the constant inspection. I had witnessed how the church responded to people who ‘made mistakes’–they were criticized, judged, and condemned.
I remember wondering why the church had the expectation that people would be perfect. They of course won’t say that. They will readily say, oh no, people are not perfect, they are sinners. Only God is perfect. You would think that with that mindset, the church membership would not be shocked every time someone ‘sinned’. They would expect it. Love them, help them and comfort them. That was not what I witnessed. So, people were afraid to make a mistake. In practice we all walked around trying to be perfect.
Then one day I told myself that I would make mistakes. Not that I might, but that I would. I was human. I was not God. I am not all knowing, all seeing and all present. I would make decisions the best that I could, but that I would make some mistakes along the way. I told myself that it was okay. It was okay to make a mistake. I was human.
I cannot tell you the relief that I experienced that day. The pressure to be perfect was lifted. I might mention that by the time I gave myself this freedom, I was out of the fishbowl. The divorce was final. The church rejected me-divorce you know. They count that as an unexpected sin. You drop right off the perfect pedestal.
Now I was able to think, and consider who I was, what I wanted, and how I wanted to live. I knew it would take time. I didn’t expect myself to heal over night. I knew it might take time to discover truths about myself.
Patience is defined as “an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay”. So I remind myself not to be annoyed or restless as I take time to become who I am. Or to recognize who that is. We are rehabbing an old house. We constantly make decisions what to keep, what to discard, and what to alter. Life is like that. And it all takes time. If I am inpatient, I will miss the pleasure of the journey.