Developing Patience: The Foundation for All Relationships
Patience with people is an absolute necessity for a fulfilling life.
Do you get impatient easily with kids who dawdle, a husband who doesn’t clean up the way you’d like or a wife who's always late? Do you have a hard time waiting in a long line, driving behind a slow driver you can’t pass, or dealing with employees who don’t perform up to snuff? Are you having a hard time waiting for your vaccine or for the pandemic to be over?
We need patience for the small stuff – and the big stuff. But what it is patience?
Simply put, patience (savlanut, in Hebrew) is the ability to tolerate the pain of someone or something going against my will.* I want my kids to be ready on time and they dawdle. I don’t want to be late for an appointment and I am stuck behind a Sunday driver. I want a healthy marriage and my mother-in-law makes sure to magnify all my flaws whenever she gets a chance.
Impatience is a form of anger. There’s a continuum. On the one end we are impatient or slightly irritated and then we start ramping it up to being annoyed, indignant, angry, exasperated, furious, and finally totally enraged. In each case we are angry because our will is not being done and we can’t tolerate the pain that causes us. It’s just a matter of degree.
Patience with people is an absolute necessity for success and pleasure in life. People have faults, make big mistakes and are often very irritating. A patient person understands that every relationship he or she takes on, or is born into, will necessitate carrying the weaknesses and poor behaviors of that person. The patient person resolves to bear the burden of other people and not put it down when the going gets rough.
Patience doesn’t mean hiding your annoyance or anger. It's coming to a place of real acceptance of others and acknowledging that you too have flaws.
Patience doesn’t mean that I am good at hiding my annoyance or anger. It means coming to a place of real acceptance of others, acknowledging that I too have flaws and traits that others need to tolerate and carry as well. It means being in a place where I can think clearly about how to respond appropriately in challenging situations and not just be reactive.
Ultimately, a truly patient person continues to be kind to his or her irritator, not withholding help or disconnecting. A patient person does not drop a relationship just because the going gets rough.
When the Torah calls God a “long-suffering King” it is referring to the patience of God. We go against God’s will often and He bears it patiently, knowing that we are human, make mistakes or even willfully transgress His directives. He waits for us to return, to learn from our mistakes and grow, even though we have insulted Him, so to speak. In the meantime, He doesn’t disconnect or withhold His kindness from us.
The Talmud teaches that we will be asked this question at the time of final judgment: “Did you crown your friend upon you with a calm spirit?” The question means, did we carry the burden of others with patience and kindness?
Practical Steps to Patience
- Be aware of situations where you have trouble tolerating the pain others stir up in you without disconnecting, making a face or snarky remark, getting angry or worse.
- Pick one recurring situation you would like to work on.
- Visualize the way you would ideally like to handle this situation with calmness, accepting the flaw or poor behavior of the person and responding in a kind way.
- Practice these behaviors externally, even if you are irritated or boiling on the inside. This could take a very long time to put into practice. Don’t give up even if you keep failing
- As you have success with #4 you should find that you are feeling calmer inside. A principle in Judaism says that external behaviors impact us internally.
- Believe you can do this!
- Keep practicing. Every day will give you new opportunities.
*Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto, Mesilas Yesharim. Chapter on nekias/cleanliness)