Be patient. NOW! NOW! DO IT NOW!
Hee hee. Just kidding.
Patience may be a virtue, but it is not one that comes easily to most of us. Anyone who has ever watched a preschooler insist upon putting on their own shoes while the minutes ticked by and you crept ever closer to that point where you would be so late people would comment on how they “didn’t know if you were still coming” knows the pain of patience.
Or if you’ve ever changed a diaper and dressed a bunch of kids only to go to load them all in the car and discover that, somehow, the baby needs changing AGAIN. Or if you’ve sat in a doctor’s office waiting room trying to keep the baby from licking the floor while you waited for the strep test you already KNOW is positive.
Or, sometimes, when you’re asked yet another question about the color of the sky, or how power lines work, or about the criminal justice system. OK, that one may just be me since my son is very interested in police work and what happens to bad guys. Today he asked if there were beds in jail and when I said yes he wanted to know why the bad guys didn’t just sleep on the floor as punishment. Trying to explain to a Kindergartner that people go to jail as punishment and not for punishment is more challenging than I would have thought.
Most of us don’t want to squish our kids’ inquisitive minds or stomp on their independence when they learn new tasks. And the doctor’s office isn’t trying to make my life difficult by actually determining what diseases my kids have. I know all this in my mind, but what about in the actual life moments? The moments when we HAVE to leave the house RIGHT NOW or we have to wait because your brother needs antibiotics or I cannot hold you because everyone else has to eat and CAN’T YOU SEE I HAVE SOMETHING HOT IN MY HANDS?
How can we be patient in those times when it is the last thing in the world we want to be?
I volunteer with the high school ministry at our church and I joke that working with teenagers is a long game. You never know what moments may matter to them or what words might seep into their hearts and resonate later on in their lives. That was true when I taught high school as well. You hope that they feel loved and valued and that maybe they learn something that will make them better adults and better citizens and better human beings in general. Sometimes they look you up to tell you thanks or that you made a difference, but mostly you just scatter your seeds and hope something grows at some point.
Parenting is an even longer game. A lifetime, at least, but perhaps even longer. What I teach my children about love, respect, discipline, encouragement, commitment, and faith will echo through the generations that come after me. My daughter will emulate me in ways that neither she nor I can foresee. My sons will respect in their wives some of the same qualities they respect in me. I have no other tasks in this life that compare to the joyful burden of raising my children.
So why in the world am I so annoyed at them for being slow or grumpy or intentionally deaf to my instructions?
In church this morning our preacher talked about how, nearly 2000 years before Jesus was born, God promised Abraham that “all peoples on earth” would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:3). Today, Jews, Christians, and Muslims all trace their heritage back to Abraham. People groups that don’t follow those faiths come into contact with those who do. God still moves through wheels he set turning millennia ago. God’s plan, His master plan to bring joy, hope, and light to the weary world, has been thousands of years in the making. Even when mankind does his very utmost to screw up the whole thing and blame it on God in the process, God’s purpose and plan moves forward.
THAT is patience.
It occurred to me that if I could gain even a tiny fraction of God’s perspective on others, my patience might expand exponentially. In that light, I have noticed a few things about my interactions with my children.
1. My children are NOT trying to push my buttons. Usually. Sometimes they are, but mostly they are just learning to navigate this world.
2. My ability to be on time, have everyone dressed well, or make dinner will not be the most important thing(s) they remember about me. My attitudes toward them will always have more value and more impact.
3. My children have very little control over their own lives and sometimes they are trying to claim independence in some small, seemingly insignificant way that matters deeply to them in that moment.
Practically, this attempt at patience manifests itself in a few ways. I try to create “work-arounds” for their known triggers. The kid who MUST put on his own shoes or he will melt down is told to do so 15 minutes early, for instance. When I have no control over how long something is going to take (prescriptions, traffic, etc.) I take a deep breath and let it go. My poor attitude will not make us move faster. Children who refuse to listen are occasionally picked up and moved against their will, but without the arguing or threats or stress build-up beforehand.
I try to focus on the long game, not just this task or this day. Sometimes I fail.
Alright, relatively often I fail. And that’s when I pray. For patience, for perspective, and most of all, for the long game.