Love Is Patient, but I’m Not (Paperback)
Love Is Patient
[The meaning of patience] is clarified by the Greek translation of the Old Testament, where we read that God is “slow to anger” (Ex 34:6; Num 14:18). It refers, then, to the quality of one who does not act on impulse and avoids giving offense. (91)
Kids’ messes. They try my patience.
I’m a preventive maintenance kind of guy with a penchant for spotting potential messes before they happen. My kids are quite familiar with paternal refrains like: “Keep your bowl away from the edge of the table” (to avoid a spill); “Make sure all the pasta is poured into the strainer” (so I don’t have to labor to clean calcified noodles off the pot later on); “Be sure to wipe Mandy’s paws when she comes in the house” (so I don’t have to clean the carpet).
I can be a bit obsessive, and it gets under my kids’ skin—understandably. They can be rather careless, and that gets under my skin—understandably. But if love is patient, what does love do in such a situation? As Pope Francis rightly insists, it “does not immediately react harshly to the weaknesses and faults of others” (The Joy of Love, 103).
Recently I walked into our family room and spotted a new deck of cards on the coffee table with no rubber band around them. I foresaw the inevitable—cards strewn everywhere and yet another deck of cards rendered useless because we couldn’t find them all—and my immediate internal reaction was: What the #*$%@!! . . . Who the #*$%@!! My external reaction may have been more measured, but the stress in my voice barely masked what was going on inside when I barked: “Who knows anything about these cards?”
“They’re just cards,” quipped Beth, asserting her and her siblings’ right to live in our house and play cards without fearing their father’s neatnik need for control. She wasn’t being disrespectful; she was just stating (rightly) that it’s not the big deal I was making it out to be. Not wanting to admit that my thirteen-year-old had just called me on the weeds of impatience in my soul, I blurted out, “That’s not what I mean, Beth.” In other words, “You think I’m in control-freak mode again, but I’m not.”
I was. And I knew it. And, clearly, she knew it. In her own frustrated way my daughter was saying, “Love is patient, Dad. And you’re not loving your family right now.” She was right. It took me a few days of internal wrestling to sort out what had actually happened in that exchange, but when I did, I apologized to Beth for my impatience.
Pope Francis insightfully observes that we “encounter problems whenever we think that relationships or people ought to be perfect, or when we put ourselves at the center and expect things to turn out our way. Then everything makes us impatient, everything makes us react aggressively. Unless we cultivate patience,” he concludes, “we will always find excuses for responding angrily” (The Joy of Love, 92).
Love is patient. Oftentimes, I am not. Lord, teach me to love.
How do I respond when others inconvenience me or act in some way that I’d rather they didn’t? Am I quick to react with dismay, disdain, or aggression?
What experiences shaped me growing up that may be affecting the way I respond to others’ and my own faults throughout the day?
Patience takes root when I recognize that other people also have a right to live in this world, just as they are. It does not matter if they hold me back, if they unsettle my plans, or annoy me by the way they act or think, or if they are not everything I want them to be. Love always has an aspect of deep compassion that leads to accepting the other person as part of this world, even when he or she acts differently than I would like. (92)
Remember the “cool” kids at school or in the neighborhood? I had to be one of them. I had to be part of the in crowd growing up. And that, among other things, meant dressing a certain way, acting a certain way, listening to certain music, and ostracizing everyone who was other than we were. The “world of cool” essentially gets divided into two categories: those who are and those who aren’t. It was all a facade, of course, that masked a deep personal insecurity, a deep fear of rejection, a deep fear that behind the masks I wasn’t lovable.
Without a thorough interior conversion that reveals the web of lies behind the charade, those patterns of thinking don’t just go away with time. I brought them with me from my teens into my twenties and right into my marriage. And it wrought some painful havoc.
Wendy learned at a young age that one’s true sense of worth is not to be found in playing the game of being cool. While I hid behind a facade growing up, she was relatively at peace with who she was. I was profoundly attracted to her because of that, and at the same time profoundly threatened by it. The profoundly attracted part compelled me to ask her to marry me, and sadly, the profoundly threatened part compelled me to try to mold her in my image. Early in our relationship I took it upon myself to “help” Wendy learn how to be just as cool as I was. Subtly and sometimes not-so-subtly, I was evaluating her in light of the arbitrary standards I had swallowed growing up.
And here’s the sickness of it all: I actually believed it was the loving and caring thing to do to help my wife learn how to think and act more like I did. In reality the message I was sending was: If you want to be loved and accepted, then you have to hide your true self and wear just as many masks as I’m wearing. Mercy.
Patience takes root, Pope Francis tells us, when we learn to love people just as they are, not as we want them to be. Patience accepts the other person even when he or she acts differently than I would like. In this sense, I was not always patient with Wendy. It was several years into our marriage before I began to wake up to these patterns of thinking and take an honest look at my many masks and how they prevented me from loving myself and others. All the while my wife was showing me that “aspect of deep compassion” Pope Francis talks about—knowing I was causing her that pain because I myself was in it.
Love embraces people just as they are. Sometimes I don’t. Lord, teach me how to love.
Am I willing to give people room to be who they are—foibles and all—without demanding they be who I want (or need) them to be?
When I’m quick (internally or externally) to criticize people who annoy me because of the way they act or think, what underlying attitudes do I use to justify the idea that these people should think or act the way I do? Is there some hurt or rejection in my own life that I’m attempting to soothe by allowing myself to feel superior to others?
Write a simple prayer of your own, asking for the grace of patience toward yourself and others.