‘PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE’ – reflection by Angie Foster

August Reflection  by Angie Foster ~ Authorised Lay Minister for Prayer & Spirituality in Walmsley Parish

If you hear the word patience, what do you think? Is it the Take That song, the film, “The English Patient”, the card game, a girl’s name or the phrase, “patience is a virtue”?

On a recent visit to my family, I read an article in the local parish magazine and thought it was worth sharing with you. So, my thanks to Revd. Harvey Lloyd Gibbons for writing this thought-provoking letter.

“Would you describe yourself as a patient person? The phrase, “patience is a virtue”, has been around for centuries; in his Canterbury Tales, Chaucer considered patience to be a “high virtue”. But in our on-demand world, is it still necessary to be able to wait patiently? After all, there are so few things for which we really must wait for these days, that patience can seem an out-dated idea, a quaint throwback to a world long gone; a world defined by the story that “far from football being the English national sport, it is waiting cheerfully in a queue!”

Patience is the ability to wait calmly for, or through something, to endure without complaint, to smile when it feels like everything is conspiring against you. It requires an element of self-control and a level of humility in accepting that you are no more important than anyone else, that there is no particular reason why you should not wait. For it to be a virtue, it seems probable that it should contain, or at least expose us to the possibility of containing, some element of suffering in the waiting. It need not necessarily be physical pain or a threat to our well-being, it might simply be boredom.

Exactly fifty years ago, in 1972, Walter Mischel, a professor at Stanford University began a study on delayed gratification. The study continues to this day at numerous universities and has become more sophisticated in its scope. However, its original form referred to as the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, children were given a small treat, either a marshmallow or a pretzel, depending on the child’s preference. They were told they could eat it immediately, but if they waited to eat it until the researcher returned, they would get two treats instead of one. The researcher left the room for ten or fifteen minutes, before returning. As you might expect, some of the children ate the treat immediately, whilst others waited for the researcher to return and claimed their greater reward.

“So what?” you might ask….. Follow-up studies on the participants found that the children who waited and claimed the double reward, generally had better outcomes later in life. For example, ten years later in comparison to the children who refused to wait, the patient children were more competent, their educational attainment was higher and despite the “double reward”, they had lower body mass indexes compared to their impatient counterparts. The Stanford experiments show that patience does matter. That being able to accept a delay in receiving a reward and understanding that the reward for the delay can be greater, can lead to an improved life. In other words, patience is good for you.

Again, you might be tempted to say….”so what?” Patience may no longer be considered virtuous or economic. Amazon is introducing drones to reduce delivery times because next day is deemed commercially unattractive. You can now get your car valued online in thirty seconds, when before it took sixty, as if sixty seconds was not fast enough. Going on your holidays? Don’t bother with a postcard, take a selfie and text or What’s App it. Still not convinced? Next time you are in a queue, have a look to see how many people are looking at their mobile phones whilst they wait…..

Technology can be wonderful, and the last two years have demonstrated the value of it. However, our increasing demand for instant gratification, responses and validation, has created a way of life which for some is harmful to their well-being and quite possibly ours as well.

Scripture might not literally say that patience is a virtue, but it does consider it to be a “fruit of the spirit”, (Gal: 5:22). Elsewhere it is portrayed as perseverance, endurance and trusting in God. Centuries before the Stanford study, the story of Saul’s lack of patience meant, like those children who couldn’t wait, he missed out later, (1 Sam:13: 8-14), unlike Abraham who, “having patiently endured obtained the promise”, (Heb: 6: 15).

The pace of life is ever-increasing and we need to cultivate patience, the ability to wait, to remain calm in the face of adversity, both in ourselves and in others. As Christians we are in a perfect place to do so because being patient is a vital part of trusting in God whose timing and plan for our lives may not always be what we would prefer.

Patience might be a virtue, but even if we fail to be paragons of virtue ourselves, being patient means we will be better placed to live a happier and more fulfilling life; after all scripture says so, literature says so and science says so as well.”

Much to ponder and reflect, I hope it perhaps strikes a chime or a chord with you like it did me. Maybe, it could be added to our prayers in the future?…