This afternoon, we saw a documentary by the Simon Wiesenthal Center (www.moriahfilms.com) on Churchill’s first year and a half as Prime Minister during WWII, which included the blitz on London. It was amazing to see the patience of ordinary Londoners as they dug out of bombed buildings and just went back to work. I don’t know if anyone today would show that kind of steadiness and perseverance in the midst of adversity. Patience is a lost virtue today, hardly recognized as a virtue at all.
I posted a piece on patience back in October as part of my Mussar work, and here’s another installment for round two of Mussar.
Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)
Here’s an unoriginal thought: We are an impatient generation.
We’ve all heard a million times that we want everything to be instant, and even if we see ourselves as spiritual people tuning in to the wisdom of the ages, we know this is true of ourselves. When I read the label of some prepared food item that I’m going to toss in the microwave, and it says it will take six minutes—six minutes!—I groan inwardly. When I hit the big intersection just as the light turns red, and I have to go through the whole cycle of red lights, yellow lights, and left-turn-only lights, which could take a couple of minutes—I groan again.
Ya’akov tells us in his letter to learn patience from the prophets who endured through suffering (James 5:10). One such prophet, Habakkuk, reveals that this endurance isn’t a matter of clenched jaw and white knuckles, but of joy in God. This sort of joyful patience is the work of the Ruach, but we have a part to play in it too.
In modern life we are trained to be impatient because we’re surrounded by so many instant offerings. But we can retrain ourselves to be patient. Perhaps patience is like a muscle that grows stronger as we exercise it. So, try this exercise every day this week: When you’re stuck in line or stuck in traffic, or doing some mindless task, don’t provide yourself with a distraction like the radio, or a magazine, or your iPhone. Just go through it. Pay attention as the minutes pass. Then add the component of joy. Take those few empty minutes as an opportunity to rejoice in the Lord. You might want to start with just a brief exercise, like the 60 seconds that you have to wait for your coffee to warm in the microwave (if you indulge in such barbaric mistreatment of coffee) or the red light at a minor intersection. Then build it up from there, so that your patience muscle becomes stronger, more enduring, and more attuned to the God of our salvation.
For more on Mussar, visit http://www.rivertonmussar.org.