Praying for patience
I first started thinking about patience when I observed (what I perceived as) a lack of it in my husband nearly every time we had to leave the house together. He is a classic ‘doer’; he loves to act and get stuff done and ticked off. I, by contrast, can (over) think and ponder something until the cows come home. This is why I always need an extra few minutes to reflect on whether I have everything I need before l can leave home. I like to contemplate every possible scenario of what lies ahead so I can be appropriately prepared. Do I need to take a jacket in case somehow we’re plunged into arctic conditions in the middle of an Australian summer? And by this point, Dan is already in the car, getting steadily grumpier at my ‘time-wasting’, and I am growing flustered and frustrated at his hurry!
So, as I was praying for various fruits of the Spirit last year, in true speck-of-dust-in-my-brother’s-eye style, I decided to focus on praying for patience for us both… but in my heart, I felt these prayers were mainly for Dan’s benefit. I thought I was pretty good on the patience front.
I’ve written before how I’ve seen God be more committed to our sanctification than we are. So I should have been more careful in what I prayed for, because, lo and behold, within weeks of praying for patience, I was in hospital (where I began writing this article) on prescribed bed rest and had to basically lie still for nine weeks.
After an extremely normal first half of pregnancy, we discovered at 19 weeks that I was at high risk of preterm labour. Bed rest, among other measures, was key to ensuring that our baby wouldn’t be born so early that she would be too little to survive. And in God’s great kindness, it worked. Our little girl did come early (at 28 weeks), and she was very little (weighing 1.2kg/2.6lb), yet we were relieved to make it to that point, and things looked good. But then… more waiting. She had to stay in hospital for two more months until she could learn to breathe without support, regulate her own temperature, digest food and be able to suck, and generally do all the things most full-term babies can do without issue.
Over these four or so months, it turned out I had to learn the lessons of patience every bit as much as my dear husband, as we both experienced in a new way what it meant to wait on the Lord. In this great season of waiting, especially before we knew whether our daughter was going to survive—when the days went by so very slowly, when we yearned to be at the ‘safe’ point of 24 weeks where she could be resuscitated if she was born—I really started to realize why patience is a fruit of the Spirit. There was clearly more to patience than my husband giving me more space to contemplate each time we left the house!
More than ever before I saw that patience and waiting are inextricably linked, and that waiting means trusting God’s plan, God’s timing, and not my own. And I could trust God’s plan because of who God is. Psalm 27 makes this so clear:
Wait for the Lord;
Be strong, and let your heart take courage;
Wait for the Lord! (Ps 27:14)
How could my heart take courage? How could I be strong? Not by waiting aimlessly, or by being a passive agent in a chance game of luck, or by simply hoping for the best and ‘staying positive’ (as many a well-meaning nurse encouraged). It was because I was waiting on the Lord. In God’s providence I’d recently been reminded in an article by Kate Hamer of all that the psalm writer invokes when he uses God’s covenant name ‘Yahweh’, which is marked by ‘Lord’ in small caps in our English Bibles. Our God is the strong and powerful Creator of the whole universe—yet he also lovingly reveals himself intimately to his people with his personal, covenant name.
He is the strong and loving God I was waiting on—he was more than able and more than willing to do what was right by me and my family. As verse 1 says, “the Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
Patience is a fruit of the Spirit because growing in patience, among many other things I’m sure, means growing in trust of our good God, whatever the outcome of our waiting. That is the Spirit’s great desire for all God’s people. I didn’t have such thoughts in mind when I prayed for patience all those months ago, but God heard me and knew that my greater need was to grow in the likeness of his Son—the one who displayed perfect patience and who quietly waited on the Lord even in the face of the most distressing of situations (1 Pet 2:22-24).
I waited, and God was immensely gracious. He has allowed me to know and care for my daughter—who is now home and happy and healthy—in this life. Even as I waited and ached for her life to be spared, I knew I was hoping for something good. But the joy I now know in getting to love and care for her is greater than I could have imagined. And through this lesson in patience, God has taught me to wait with hope for a far greater joy on that final day, when all will be made right forever. This is the ultimate and guaranteed outcome of our Christian patience. “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!” (Ps 27:13).
This article has been co-published with Australian Church Record.