Patience and Temper Tantrums

Patience is like a bad visit to the dentist. Just hearing the word makes people cringe or roll their eyes. Here we go again, the same spiel about patience…we watch the minute hand on the clock move slowly, hoping it’s over quickly. Honestly, I’m even dreading typing this post.

The problem with patience is it’s a heart issue. Or rather impatience stems from a heart of expectation, pride, and obsession.

It’s easiest to see impatience in a toddler – A favorite toy disappears into a drawer or the bowl of oatmeal is empty more quickly than he’d like. This moment is when he crumbles. He wants something, and it’s not coming fast enough or not coming at all. You know the deal – tears, kicks, screams, an arched back. Toddlers know impatience like none other, and it’s obvious. Lucky for kids, they’ve got parents to help them through their freak outs. They’ve got parents who make them wait, who make them practice. Wait for dinner to be ready. Wait for mommy to finish this phone call. Wait for daddy to get home. Wait for your little sister to finish tying her shoe. Wait on me to finish going to the bathroom.

My mom used to tell me, “Patience is a virtue, and you don’t have it.” I don’t know that she always tacked on that final clause, but she did at least once because I remember it. I was fussing because she was taking too long to get ready. I was waiting to go by the door and huffing about it. She came out of her room into the kitchen, one arm in her coat, the other searching for the other sleeve, and said those scorned words.

She was right.

These days, I find myself a little more graceful than a toddler, but just a little.

I’m impatient still, throwing a tantrum when I don’t get what I want. These tantrums may be more hidden. I don’t remember the last time I screamed on the floor in a mall, legs sprawled everywhere, but I do remember storming into my room and slamming the door (the door to our bedroom doesn’t actually close all the way, so slamming it doesn’t have the same effect it does when the door fully slams). I wasn’t even really mad at anyone in particular. I was just tired of waiting on someone to get out of the bathroom (we have 1). Literally, I just wanted to close the door hard because it would make me feel better, and I knew it wouldn’t make a loud noise. So I did, and then I realized I had just thrown a tantrum. Like a toddler.

Yikes.

It got me thinking about how much more practice children have in patience. They have someone constantly enforcing patience. They have an adult whose schedule they must fit into. Often, kids have two parents and maybe some older siblings who are ahead of them in the pecking order. Or by some chance their parents are separated or divorced, they could end up with four parents whose opinions and schedules must come before theirs. Talk about some practice in patience.

And then they become adults and can make more decisions for themselves. Suddenly patience is really hard work because there is no one enforcing it. We can get in the shortest drive thru line or the shortest line at the stop light. We can serve our own dinner or make our own food without help. We don’t have control over everything, but much more lies at our disposal. And we struggle with patience because we believe we deserve more. We easily have most everything we need, and when we do end up in a situation where we are put off, we throw a tantrum.

They say practice makes perfect, though it’s probably more true that practice makes us merely disciplined. Even so, how often do we choose to get in the longest line in the grocery store or give up our spot for someone else? How often do we ask to be put at the bottom of the list just so we can learn to wait?

I long for the enjoyment of delayed gratification. I long for the idea of being a patient person, but I hate the idea of putting myself there in those moments of waiting, sometimes for weeks or months, or sometimes waiting for something that may never come.

And what is the opposition? Hoping for nothing? Desiring nothing? Well, that’s not realistic. And so we hope and wait for that glorious moment of gratification, when we are patient and finally, oh finally, there is the blessing when what we have longed and hoped for comes to fruition.

When I see my kids responding with impatience in life, I quickly see myself in them. They’ve learned through my actions more so than all the words of patience I can throw at them. They’ve picked up that urgent tone in my voice, that hitting of the steering wheel when I’m frustrated that someone else cut me off. They talk down to friends or siblings who take too long sharing toys. They say, “come on, come on” while the web page loads.

They show me my impatience. They show me how much I act as though I instantly deserve almost anything, They show me how much they need an example from someone who knows the discipline of patience and practicing contentment.

As much as I probably don’t want that example to be me because I don’t want to work that hard, it should be me. And maybe through practicing patience and waiting, my kids will learn more by example than through the endless rounds of the waiting game I may force upon them or the maxims and sayings I may tell them when they just can’t wait another second. Maybe, just maybe, they will see me being patient and hoping in the Lord, and they will follow.

That would be the best blessing.