The Spiritual Practice of Patience

“Patience is a virtue.” We hear this saying all our lives, and it seems simple enough to understand and aspire to. 

Yet familiarity and simplicity may be the very things that keep us from considering patience a necessary spiritual practice, an avenue for strengthened relationships with ourselves, others, and God.

The ultimate example of patience is expressed for us in the life of Jesus, who was patient with Himself as He came to appreciate who He was, with His disciples who betrayed Him, and with His Father, whose plan was not an easy one to accept. St. Paul also recognized patience as one of the “Fruits of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23). Patience is a spiritual discipline that results in the gifts of greater calm, faith, hope, resilience, and wisdom in our lives.

Like Jesus, patience starts with ourselves and the simple yet challenging practice of working to quietly endure even minor nuisances. Mindful patience influences us in uncomfortable situations, helping ease us through without complaint. Toleration of the daily inconveniences that can drive us a little crazy (standing in line, traffic jams, lack of manners in others) both gives us greater daily peace as well as lays the foundation to help us endure, with calm, the more significant challenges to patience that are inevitable in our lives.

Patience calls into play the self-control, humility, and generosity that Jesus modeled for us. Our active awareness of the impatience we feel will work to enhance the gift of listening well to others, dealing with difficult people, and preventing us, for example, from making rash decisions.

We can take true comfort in God’s limitless patience with us, and make use of that to strengthen our trust and faith in Him. The more we have trust and faith in God and the people we love, the greater our ability to be patient with them and to love them more fully. Cultivating resiliency—our capacity to wait for God, ourselves, and others—is a pursuit that can bear meaningful change in our lives, especially as we come to a recognition that waiting is an active, not a passive, activity.

In that action, our opportunity is to invoke and connect with God rather than focus on an irritation. Here we can discover the great companion of patience, which is wisdom—the heart of spiritual maturity—and accept St. Paul’s message that in our difficulties, “our faith is enlarged” (Thessalonians 1:3).