One of the best advice I’ve received as a PhD student was given by my doctoral supervisor. I expressed that I often felt unproductive unless I was writing my dissertation. In response, he simply told me to be patient, and that whatever I write in two years time will always be better than what I write today. This is good advice, indeed, for any young academic. Reading, thinking, and reflecting takes time. Though often the results (or process!) are not immediately tangible, the pay-off for endurance, patience, and self-conscious reflection goes a long way in developing one’s ability to write profoundly. Further, scholarly detachment and a matured composure reflected by one’s prose can only be produced by such long-term thinking. In many great scholar’s work, behind every few pages lie months of critical thinking. In other words, wisdom is impossible without patience.
Why does one become impatient? Why does one tend toward hasty action in response to problems, transgressions, or the like?
I suggest that our impatience is actually driven by the engine of pride. Our impatience is indicative of our tendency to want to take things into our own hands, and thus to assert ourselves as the ones actually capable of providing a solution to some problem. It communicates that we believe we are the only ones competent enough to do that which is required. Thus, our impatience could also tell us, subtly, that we lack trust in God – who promises us that he will accomplish everything in its own time, and in his own way. It communicates that we believe we ought to be in control, instead of God.
Our impatience also manifests itself in pride when we feel that need to always respond to charges made against us by another. When we feel like we always have to assert our arguments, our view points, over against the views or responses of others, it shows that we are often addicted to being right. The words of Proverbs 19:11 strike me as relevant: “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offence.” Two observations are worth noting from this verse. First, there is a specific kind of anger that one ought to avoid – an anger related to attacks on our own ego. The Bible is actually pretty quick to commend specific kinds of anger – one thinks of the zeal of Phinehas or Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. The factor which binds these two accounts is simple: one ought to be angered and zealous when God’s character is maligned or at stake. However, when it comes to our own egos, our own “reputation” being maligned or challenged by others, it seems that the Scriptures consistently tell us that we ought to turn the other cheek. Our egos are not worth defending. Second, it is to our “glory” to overlook those offences directed against us. Now, what kind of glory is this? It could be the glory given to us by men – perhaps the author of this proverb has in mind the perception that the patient man who speaks little shows forth wisdom. Or, perhaps, it is strategically valuable to overlook offences. I think, however, that these options are unlikely. Consider this from the book of James (often considered as the Wisdom Literature of the New Testament):
7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. 9 Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! 10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
It seems far more likely, therefore, that the glory in view here is a glory that comes from above – a glory that comes from divine approval rather than men.
Impatience, therefore, can also show us our love for the praises of men, and a lack of contentment or desire in God’s approval first and foremost. It often seeks for instant relief from the accusations or mockery of men by a resort to our own tools and measures, rather that being satisfied in our identity in God. Impatience manifests anxious self-fixation. Impatience, then, like any other sin, is never a solitary sin: its connected to a whole host of other issues within the human heart that indicates our residual depravity.
Surely, then, the call to patience is a hard task.