“God, give me patience” is a prayer that I refuse to pray.
Why ? Because I’m not stupid.
I know if I pray for patience that God is going to give me situations that require patience, and I don’t need any more of those. 😉
But God doesn’t buy my reverse psychology. Life is complex and “situations” abound.
I used to think, “Once I get through the ‘terrible threes,’ my life will be easier” or “Someday I’ll have more patience.”
I would look at mothers of special needs kids and think, “Wow. I could never do what she does. She has the patience of a saint.” Then I would sigh wistfully, and think, I will never, ever be able to do that.
I never stopped to consider how a saint acquired such virtue.
But now I have kids with special needs and I’ll tell you the secret, though it isn’t very glamourous.
How do you become more patient? You have to be willing to suffer.
Kind of a gut check, isn’t it?
Most days, I spend a lot of energy avoiding suffering. It’s why I made my twins use sippy cups until they were 5 and why naptime is non-negotiable for my 3 year old.
It’s why I stern-facedly warn my boys, “DO NOT SPLASH IN THE TUB” before every bath…
…because i just don’t have the patience to deal with spilled drinks, whiny children, and flooded bathrooms.
But then there are the big things, like communication breakdowns, learning disabilities, sensory meltdowns, and Autism.
A lid, a nap, or a warning won’t “fix” these problems. They are complicated, unpredictable, and difficult. They are constant and pervasive.
And, yet, they catch me off guard, and destroy my attempts at patience at every turn.
It’s the big things that cause real suffering, for both me and my children.
I need patience, but for a long time I operated on the understanding that patience was just holding it together until I eventually snapped.
Mom is done.
Patience is DONE!
And yet, I fervently desire the perseverance James talks about:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)
I want to be mature and complete, but can I be honest? I don’t want the trial.
I want the fruit of patience (Galatians 5:22-23) but I balk against the idea of “long-suffering.”
I constantly feel my own failure. I wonder how I can even say “I love you” to my sons, when I constantly fall short of the first definition of true love: “Love is patient.” (I. Cor. 13:4).
So I stopped praying for patience (Little good it was doing anyway).
I prayed instead for other things:
I prayed that I could understand how Benji’s mind worked.
I prayed that my heart would be tender, instead of hard, toward my sons.
I prayed that I could love them unconditionally.
And slowly, a new definition of patience formed in my mind.
Patience: def. The willingness to suffer.
Simply redefining patience, (or really, coming to a true understanding Biblical patience) has helped me to step away from my own grit-your-teeth patience, and into an others-focused Love for my children.
Because, let’s face it, motherhood is full of suffering, and in many moments, there is a choice: Either I am going to suffer, or I am going to make my children suffer.
I can say, “It’s ok, honey. Just get a towel. I’ll help you clean up the milk” and absorb the suffering of the moment.
Or I can make my child suffer with my impatience by scolding, huffing, and berating his clumsiness.
With Benji, I’ve learned that when I yell, he falls apart; he can’t listen to me and he just shuts down, sometimes for a long time.
Homework is one of our constant struggles. When he gets stuck on a problem or word, he often takes his frustration out on me. He balks, throws things, breaks pencils, growls, screams, shouts “NO” repeatedly, and refuses to move forward.
It’s really hard.
I have blown up so many, many times when this happens. I lose my cool, my sanity, my patience. And then we are in a worse place, with a broken mother and son, a huge, angry wedge in our relationship, all over a subtraction problem.
But instead of manufacturing my usual “Patience Bomb” (tick, tick tick, BOOM!), I am trying to focus on him, on us, on our relationship. While I don’t let him disrespect or abuse me, I am trying a different way.
I say, “I know it’s hard. Would you like me to help you?”
Sometimes I step away, so I don’t slip into scolding and shouting.
I dig down deep, in the place where prayer resides, breathe to calm my racing heart, and tell myself, I am willing to suffer in this moment, for the sake of my son, for the sake of our relationship, for the sake of love.
There is no perseverance without the trial.
There is no Spirit-fruit without suffering.
It is the willingness to suffer that opens the gateway to that saint-like patience I so desire. And it’s worth it, because relationship is my goal, and Love is the foundation, the means, and the prize.