Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher who lived from 535-475BC, made the following connection between patience and character.
“Good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day. Protracted and patient effort is needed to develop good character.”
This quote connects well with one of my personal life philosophies.
“Small steps taken gradually and consistently add up over time to make a huge difference.”
The role patience plays in solid character brings to mind the phrase “patience is a virtue.” This well-known saying comes from the poem “Piers Plowman” written somewhere between 1360-1387 by William Langland.
A virtue is “behavior showing high moral standards.” So this statement, written almost 1000 years ago, equates patience to being a way we can show the state of our morality, or as Heraclitus calls it, our “good character.”
Patience exists as one of the biggest struggles of my life, and I don’t believe I stand alone in this struggle. For these reasons, I want to take a few posts to look at what Scripture says about patience. We won’t get to every point made about patience in the Bible, but we’ll go far enough for immediate and far-reaching impact.
What is patience?
Two different Greek words are used in Scripture for patience.
Galatians 5:22 (the list of the fruit of the Spirit) uses the word “makrothumia” for patience. This word focuses on love for and patience with others.
Romans 5:3 (part of a discussion about peace and hope) uses the word “hupomone” for patience. This word connects patience with hope, such as what we have through our salvation.
Both of these perspectives on patience get at the idea of long-suffering, forbearance, long-tempered, perseverance, constancy and steadfastness (all words used in various Bible translations in place of the above Greek words). Also, both call upon the mind to hold back before expressing itself in action or passion.
Both “makrothumia” and “hupomone” involve using self-control to refrain from letting emotions and feelings direct actions. As a whole concept, patience in the Bible drives home the idea of making choices that reflect our “good character” and our “high moral standards” even when we feel like doing quite the opposite.
One aspect of patience that I find fascinating involves how different it looks from one person to the next. Observing both my husband and myself in our daily lives illustrates this fact quite well, but so does a simple trip to the grocery store. Some people just seem to have an inner disposition toward patience while struggle is obvious for the rest of us.
What’s also interesting is that even though patience comes more easily for some, every person has limits. Those limits exist because of our humanness. Boxer Mike Tyson captured the idea this way:
“Everyone has a plan ‘til they get punched in the mouth.”
What is impatience?
Impatience, according to the Dictionary of Bible Themes, is “a refusal to wait for people or developments, frequently displaying a lack of faith.” Biblical examples of impatience include Esau, Moses, Israel & Saul.
Personally, I describe my history with patience as “consistently inconsistent.” Sounds better than saying I’m often impatient, don’t you think? However it’s said, my impatience shows up consistently when…
- I lack control over a person or situation.
- I’m uncomfortable or worn out physically or mentally.
- My expectations go unmet.
- I make false assumptions.
- I fail to forgive someone.
- I’m hungry.
- I’ve neglected the other fruit (Galatians 5:5).
Even though patience exists as one of my greatest struggles in life, it also lives as one of my greatest victories. When I realize the progress made in uncountable small steps, I fully understand just how much protracted effort developing a patient character requires.
At the same time, I’m painfully aware of how inadequate I am at becoming consistently patient. On my own, I’m sporadic at best. While I’ve learned that patience comes gradually, I’ve also learned I need a lot of help in cultivating it. In the next post, we’ll look at what that help — really, a partnership — looks like.
DISCUSSION: What does your story of patience look like?