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  • Reverend James Squire


Updated: Feb 12, 2021

There is plenty of evidence that patience is a virtue. St. Paul indicates in his letter to the Romans that “if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience”. Tolstoy wrote that patience is a warrior. For Aristotle patience is first bitter and then became sweet. For Lao Tzu, it was a great treasure along with compassion and simplicity.

If it is such a virtue, why can’t we human beings have more of it? Even my Labrador, the Wonder Dog Sadie, knows that she is fed first thing in the morning, at noon, and at 5. She has an internal clock that one can set their watch to that her food should arrive at that time. If it doesn’t, she sits in front of me and just stares.

There was a classic study that was done at Stanford during the 60(s) and 70(s) where a researcher gave little children a marsh mellow and told them that if they could wait 15 minutes while he left the room that he would give them twice as much when he returned. They followed the children in a longitudinal study and found that the children who could wait did much better in life.

When people have less time to live such as those with a terminal illness, they can be the most patient of all. They don’t rush things. They value their time in a different way than the rest of the world.

There are two kinds of patience. One is when you know when you are going to get something that you want like, for kids, when Christmas will arrive. The other is when you don’t know when something will arrive. Hence the cry from the back seat of a car with little children asking minutes after we leave if we are there yet.

It is the second kind that has shaped us during these times of Black Lives Matter and the Pandemic. It is hard to be patient when you don’t know when these two very important issues that are part of our daily lives will reach a conclusion. The likelihood is that we will know about the end of the Pandemic before we have full resolution of the equal justice for all people. I heard from disease experts that Covid 19 may be with us forever, like cancer or the flu. We, however, will be able to reduce its impact which is what a flu shot does for us now.

I learned recently that patience is something that you can learn. Jennifer Roberts at Harvard University did a study where she took people who had a problem with patience to an art museum where they had to sit and look at a painting for three hours. She chose that length of time so that the experience would sink in. What occurred was when the people were able to sit in front of a painting for that long, they saw so many different things and dimensions that they had not seen at first glance. They began to enjoy the experience and, according to Roberts, it got translated to their feelings so that they could be more patient.

I don’t think that would work for Sadie the Wonder Dog, but if you are growing impatient day by day during this trying time, you might give it a try, and maybe like the Stanford Study of Children you may have a better life going forward.

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