A few years ago, to choose a topic to speak on in church, I went to the chapter of Preach My Gospel that talks about developing Christ-like attributes. The topic that I chose was patience. It wasn't something I'd thought too much about in the past, but I discovered that it's deeply intertwined with many of the core doctrines of the gospel and the purposes of mortal life.
Sometimes when we think of patience, what we're actually imagining is controlled impatience. But in Preach My Gospel, we read that "patience is the capacity to endure delay, trouble, opposition, or suffering without becoming angry, frustrated, or anxious. It is the ability to do God's will and accept His timing. When you are patient, you hold up under pressure and are able to face adversity calmly and hopefully. Patience is related to hope and faith--you must wait for the Lord's promised blessings to be fulfilled."
Psalm 46:10 says, "Be still, and know that I am God."
As both Preach My Gospel and this Bible verse point out, when we have developed true patience, we are at peace while we wait upon the Lord, upon others, and upon ourselves. Patience is not bottling up frustrations till they exceed our capacity and explode, but the ability to delay our responses and focus on faith, allowing frustrations to dissipate and be replaced with peace. Bottled up impatience can rarely be hidden, since it has a way of creeping out in our tone of voice and actions, even when we're trying to hide it.
Joseph B. Wirthlin said: "A certain amount of impatience may be useful to stimulate and motivate us to action. However, I believe that a lack of patience is a major cause of the difficulties and unhappiness in the world today. Too often, we are impatient with ourselves, with our family members and friends, and even with the Lord. We seem to demand what we want right now, regardless of whether we have earned it, whether it would be good for us, or whether it is right."
As I've thought about patience, what I've come to see is that it is both a reflection of, and a contributor to, the strength of our faith, hope, charity, forgiveness, and many other Christ-like characteristics that we seek to develop. In fact, patience is essential to our full exercise of one of the most precious gifts that God has given us, which is free will. Patience is the ability, when those around you are making poor choices, to focus on your own options, and make your own choices. It is self-mastery, and the power to direct your own life. A man without patience is a slave to circumstance.
Deiter F. Uchtdorf said, "The Savior Himself said that in your patience you possess your souls. Or, to use another translation of the Greek text, in your patience you win mastery of your souls."
The very test of mortal life is to prove that we will choose to, with our Savior's help, develop a greater capacity to act for ourselves in accordance with His commandments. So developing patience is central to passing the test of life.
Patience is a skill of perspective. It's the capacity to focus on the eternal amidst the challenges of the temporal. Most of the things that we get impatient over are temporary. The challenge is that they're present and visible, while eternal things may feel distant or unsure. But as we grow in faith and choose where to keep our focus, eternal things can ultimately be the more real to us of the two.
Robert D. Hales said, "We may not know when or how the Lord’s answers will be given, but in His time and His way, I testify, His answers will come. For some answers we may have to wait until the hereafter. This may be true for some promises in our patriarchal blessings and for some blessings for family members. Let us not give up on the Lord. His blessings are eternal, not temporary."
Patience is the capacity to love the sinner more than we hate the sin. Doctrine and Covenants 121:43-44 speaks of "Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death."
Robert C. Oaks of the Presidency of the Seventy said,
Mormon, after pointing out that if a man 'have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity,' goes on to name the 13 elements of charity, or the pure love of Christ. I find it most interesting that 4 of the 13 elements of this must-have virtue relate to patience.
First, 'charity suffereth long.' That is what patience is all about. Charity 'is not easily provoked' is another aspect of this quality, as is charity 'beareth all things.' And finally, charity 'endureth all things' is certainly an expression of patience. From these defining elements it is evident that without patience gracing our soul, we would be seriously lacking with respect to a Christlike character.
Thomas S. Monson shared a story of how patience focuses more on love than on one's own troubles, saying:
A dear and cherished young friend, Wendy Bennion of Salt Lake City, was such an example. Just the day before yesterday, she quietly departed mortality and returned 'to that God who gave [her] life'. She had struggled for over five long years in her battle with cancer. Ever cheerful, always reaching out to help others, never losing faith, her contagious smile attracted others to her as a magnet attracts metal shavings.
While ill and in pain, a friend of hers, feeling downcast with her own situation, visited Wendy. Nancy, Wendy’s mother, knowing Wendy was in extreme pain, felt that perhaps the friend had stayed too long. She asked Wendy, after the friend had left, why she had allowed her to stay so long when she herself was in so much pain. Wendy’s response: 'What I was doing for my friend was a lot more important than the pain I was having. If I can help her, then the pain is worth it.'
Her attitude was reminiscent of Him who bore the sorrows of the world, who patiently suffered excruciating pain and disappointment, but who, with silent step of His sandaled feet, passed by a man who was blind from birth, restoring his sight. He approached the grieving widow of Nain and raised her son from the dead. He trudged up Calvary's steep slope, carrying His own cruel cross, undistracted by the constant jeers and taunting that accompanied His every step. For He had an appointment with divine destiny.
In a very real way He visits us, each one, with His teachings. He brings cheer and inspires goodness. He gave His precious life that the grave would be deprived of its victory, that death would lose its sting, that life eternal would be our gift.
Patience is the capacity to withhold judgment until our knowledge is sufficient, and to accept that it may never be. Patience chooses empathy, or understanding, over judgment. In the science fiction novel, Ender's Game, the hero says, "In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it's impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves." When we have empathy, love leads to patience.
Patience is the capacity to focus on the spiritual amidst the temptations of the carnal. It comes as we subject the body to the spirit, and the spirit to Christ.
Patience is the ability to enjoy blessings before receiving them, by focusing on faith and hope. Romans: 8:24-25 reads, "For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it." Impatience, by contrast, tends to suffer in advance over tragedies that may never even happen.
As important as patience is, we shouldn't be surprised to discover that our mortal lives are designed to give us many opportunities to develop it. In our fast paced modern world, where we have instant access to practically the whole world, this can be a challenge – many aspects of life don't force us to exercise patience the way they did generations past. But it is no less critical a quality today than it was in the past.
Mosiah 23:21, speaking not of a wicked group, but of the righteous followers of Alma, says, "Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith." Trials are not proof of wickedness, and in fact, may at times be evidence that righteousness has prepared us for experiences that will help us in our growth and progression. By mentioning trials of both faith and patience, this verse makes it clear that faith isn't only tried through great moments of decision, but also by long periods of endurance.
We may think it unnatural to be grateful for trials, but in Romans 5:3-4, we read, "but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience, and experience, hope." We all want hope, but to develop it, we must pass through the experiences from which it develops, and we must do so patiently.
Joseph B. Wirthlin spoke to this same point, saying, "One of the greatest sentences to fall upon human ears comes from the Book of Mormon: 'Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.' That sentence captures the major possibilities of life. Let me add, we will have genuine joy and happiness only as we learn patience."
And Robert D. Hales said,
I have often pondered, Why is it that the Son of God and His holy prophets and all the faithful Saints have trials and tribulations, even when they are trying to do Heavenly Father’s will? Why is it so hard, especially for them?
I think about Joseph Smith, who suffered illness as a boy and persecution throughout his life. Like the Savior, he cried out, 'O God, where art thou?' Yet even when he was seemingly alone, he exercised his agency to wait upon the Lord and carry out his Heavenly Father’s will.
I think of our pioneer forebears, driven from Nauvoo and crossing the plains, exercising their agency to follow a prophet even as they suffered sickness, privation, and some even death. Why such terrible tribulation? To what end? For what purpose?
As we ask these questions, we realize that the purpose of our life on earth is to grow, develop, and be strengthened through our own experiences. How do we do this? The scriptures give us an answer in one simple phrase: we 'wait upon the Lord.'
Our Heavenly Father and Jesus are our greatest examples of patience, and show us that we will continue to need patience throughout the eternities.
Richard L. Evans said, "There seems to be little evidence that the Creator of the universe was ever in a hurry. Everywhere, on this bounteous and beautiful earth, and to the farthest reaches of the firmament, there is evidence of patient purpose and planning and working and waiting."
Robert C. Oaks said,
The greatest scriptural examples of patience are found in the life of Jesus Christ. His long-suffering and endurance are best demonstrated on that excruciating night in Gethsemane as He uttered, in His atoning agony, 'O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt'. He truly suffered and bore and endured all things.
While nailed to the cross on Calvary, Christ continued in His perfect example of patience as He uttered the singular words, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
These examples of patience have greater meaning for us when we consider the admonition found in 3 Nephi: 'Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am'.
We sometimes think of patience as a passive activity. But in it's full expression, patience is active. We don't simply sit back and wait for the Lord's due time to send us blessings, but instead realize that often, the reason He keeps us waiting is to give us time to prepare.
Deiter F. Uchtdorf said,
I learned that patience was far more than simply waiting for something to happen--patience required actively working toward worthwhile goals and not getting discouraged when results didn’t appear instantly or without effort.
There is an important concept here: patience is not passive resignation, nor is it failing to act because of our fears. Patience means active waiting and enduring. It means staying with something and doing all that we can--working, hoping, and exercising faith; bearing hardship with fortitude, even when the desires of our hearts are delayed. Patience is not simply enduring; it is enduring well!
He also said, "Brigham Young taught that when something came up which he could not comprehend fully, he would pray to the Lord, 'Give me patience to wait until I can understand it for myself.' And then Brigham would continue to pray until he could comprehend it."
Another reason why it is important for our patience to be active is so that others can benefit from it. When I was returning home from my mission to Japan, my flight from Tokyo to Los Angeles was delayed, and the connecting flight to Salt Lake City took off about the time we touched down. In the airport, another missionary and I got in line to speak with a representative of the airline, who was trying to find new connecting flights for many of the passengers. It was already evening, additional flights were scarce, and I could see that the woman was feeling a lot of pressure.
I knew that if we didn't get a flight that night, arrangements would be made, and everything would work out fine. So it was easy to be patient. But it wasn't until I demonstrated that patience by starting a conversation unrelated to our transportation needs, that she was able to feel it. Her relief was obvious, at least until she got to the next passenger.
Joseph B. Worthlin, discussing various circumstances where we need to exercise patience, said:
We should learn to be patient with ourselves. Recognizing our strengths and our weaknesses, we should strive to use good judgment in all of our choices and decisions, make good use of every opportunity, and do our best in every task we undertake. We should not be unduly discouraged nor in despair at any time when we are doing the best we can. Rather, we should be satisfied with our progress even though it may come slowly at times.
We should be patient in developing and strengthening our testimonies.
Patience with family members and others who are close to us is vital for us to have happy homes. However, we often seem more willing to be courteous and polite with strangers than with those in our own family circles. For some reason, criticism, sharp language, and quarreling too often seem to be acceptable at home but not away from home.
Parents, be patient with your children. Read to your little children and help them with their schoolwork, even if you need to tell or show them the same thing many times. Elder Richard L. Evans said, 'If they find that they can trust us with their trivial questions, they may later trust us with more weighty ones'.
Finally, a word about patience with our Heavenly Father and his plan of eternal progression. How incredibly foolish to be impatient with him, the Father of our spirits, who knows everything and whose work and glory, through his Son, Jesus Christ, is 'to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man'. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, 'Patience is tied very closely to faith in our Heavenly Father. Actually, when we are unduly impatient, we are suggesting that we know what is best--better than does God. Or, at least, we are asserting that our timetable is better than his. Either way we are questioning the reality of God's omniscience.'
Lastly, how do we develop patience?
In part, we need to develop the willpower to refuse to give in to ungodly impulses. But the greater goal is to experience a change in nature.
Excerpting from King Benjamin, "the natural man is an enemy to God, ... and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him."
Robert C. Oaks suggested several steps to help us develop patience:
1. Read each of the scriptures in the Topical Guide listed under the topic "patience" and then ponder Christ's patient examples.
2. Evaluate ourselves to determine where we stand on the patience continuum. How much more patience do we need to become more Christlike? This self-assessment is difficult. We might ask our spouse or another family member to help us. [and I might add, that could help us develop humility too!]
3. Become sensitive to the examples of patience and of impatience that occur around us every day. We should strive to emulate those individuals we consider to be patient.
4. Recommit each day to become more patient, and be certain to keep our selected family member involved in our patience project.
May we all seek to develop more of the godly quality of patience. And let us remember, when people try our patience, the words of the Savior when He said, paraphrasing slightly, that "Inasmuch as ye have shown patience to one of the least of these my brethren, including yourself, ye have shown patience unto me."