On Acquired Virtue
“Love is patient”…
We’ve all heard this verse a thousand times, whether it be at a friend’s wedding or a relative’s funeral or seen on a flowery decoration that hangs in the hallway. It’s repeated, and we know it well.
It wasn’t until recently that it was pointed out to me that patience is the very first attribute listed of love.
I’ve known all my life that patience is not a virtue I possess by nature. My ENTJ personality type attests to this fact. I have little tolerance for people who do not work as fast as I do. I dislike weakness, imperfection, disorderliness. I loathe when people move at a slow pace or don’t understand a concept immediately. Being a wife, teacher, and now mom, I have had to actively work against these natural inclinations to build up the virtue of patience within myself.
Dietrich von Hildebrand’s profound understanding of this virtue patience radically changed the way I looked at myself and my personality. I used to value things like speed and effectiveness above all else, and I was convinced that little annoyances like waiting in line, computers breaking down, naughty children, hurt feelings, and the like were simply imperfections waiting to be righted. I viewed phlegmatic and easy-going people as undoubtedly weaker.
Hildebrand writes that few virtues bear unequivocal witness to the fact that one’s life is no longer based on one’s own nature, but to Christ”; Who, of course, does not have a sluggish temperament that is dull and unable to be roused by anything of importance. Patience does not mean the inability to be passionate and decisive.
Rather: “Impatience is rooted in an illegitimate sovereignty of self.”
Damn. Yes. I am absorbed in self when I am obliged to wait, even for something good, or subjected to a delay from outside circumstances. In those moments, “I sever the fundamental link with God that defines the constitution of our life as a creature.” In these moments, I believe that I am in charge, that my aims and desires supersede whatever other business has collided into my world.
We have to accept the space of time interpolating itself between our volitive decisions and the fulfillment of our purpose, whatever it may be. It is a reality imposed on us as humans. The requirements of the present moment, no matter how insane or troublesome or inconvenient, must not displace my attention to the deeper reality at hand.
This is the art of waiting, for love and its patience is worth a thousand times more the time lost to the annoyance of the present. Love above all else.
Patience quietly whispers that He is supreme over time and every messy tumultuous thing that comes with it. I am not. Thank God.
So when my husband does some annoying thing, or when my day piles up with unwanted tasks, or when my students or my son frustrate me with their littleness and incapacity to understand, inwardly I submit myself again and again to the sovereign of time. It’s His world, and I’m living in it.
It takes practice, practice, practice.
We all know that God doesn’t give you patience. Instead, He gives moments that allow me to practice it. For me, an impatience-by-nature, headstrong lover of productivity, this means daily interior submission to the divine plan over my plans.
“In your patience you shall possess your souls.” (Luke 21:19)