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Two boys were eagerly loading their mother’s groceries onto the conveyor belt at the supermarket. As if racing, the older boy went as fast as he could. At one point he watched his younger brother struggle to hold a bag of apples without spilling them. Slowly the younger boy examined the bag, looking for the open top.
“Come on, come on!” the older one said.
His wise mother put her hand on his shoulder, and simply said, “Patience.”
I almost wish that woman could pipe her voice into my brain several times a day. I have struggled with patience all my life, and though I know I’ve improved since the days when I could have easily traded places with that older boy, it’s still a challenge.
Have you ever prayed for patience and then caught yourself and thought, “Wait—am I praying for an even more horrendous challenge that will teach me patience? Yikes!”
To be sure, life is easier if we learn this essential trait through discipline, love, and maturity, than having it forced upon us through adversity. And yet those trials are indeed a great teacher. Sometimes the most patient people we know are those whose challenges we would never want.
But we can develop this attribute by consciously choosing it. Unlike many other talents and abilities, this is one we can actually control simply by self-determination. By catching ourselves when we feel mounting anxiety and impatience, we can literally resolve to take a breath and trust in God. I’m not saying it’s easy, I’m saying it’s do-able.
A huge component of patience is reliance upon our Heavenly Father and trusting in his will. This becomes easier the more we exercise it. And it grows stronger as we age, simply because we have more actual experience in seeing that God does eventually help us. If you’re only 12, you have no frame of reference for the lengths of time some things take. If you’re 80, you’ve seen many examples of decade-long prayers finally being answered. In many ways, patience and faith are intertwined.
Think of the things you pray for, the righteous desires of your heart, which haven’t yet materialized. Perhaps you’ve been praying for months, or even decades. Some wonder if God is listening, or why it’s taking so long. Many of us forget that God is not there to instantly grant every wish. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland once said, “Patiently enduring some things is part of our mortal education.” God knows that we are here to be schooled, to learn to be like him, not just to get what we want when we want it.
Even when we know that our timing is not God’s timing, we sometimes try to persuade him to hurry up. And he is so patient. He listens to us whine and bargain, push and argue. I wonder if we look like that boy in the supermarket. But God’s view is so much grander, his understanding so much greater, and he knows which things are best for us, and when.
Isn’t it ironic that we try to convince God to do things differently? Do we honestly think we have better ideas, a better understanding? Yes, we should let God know our desires, but to second-guess him is taking that too far. “Thy will be done” is not always in our hearts.
Many of us pray and then wait. But waiting is not really the right approach, either. In an address called Continue in Patience during the 2010 April General Conference, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “I learned that patience was far more than simply waiting for something to happen—patience required actively working toward worthwhile goals and not getting discouraged when results didn’t appear instantly or without effort.
“There is an important concept here: patience is not passive resignation, nor is it failing to act because of our fears. Patience means active waiting and enduring. It means staying with something and doing all that we can—working, hoping, and exercising faith; bearing hardship with fortitude, even when the desires of our hearts are delayed. Patience is not simply enduring; it is enduring well!”
For decades psychologists have cited studies that show better health among people who are proactive, who feel a sense of control over their destiny. We have better physical and emotional health when we feel there’s something we can do about our problems, rather than sit back as helpless victims. And, while we cannot control another person’s agency, for example, there is much we can do to fast, pray, love, and support those individuals.
As President Uchtdorf said, we can even bear hardship with fortitude. That’s doing something. We can set an example of faith and optimism, we can reach out to comfort and help others who struggle with our same trials. We can grow closer to our Heavenly Father as we come to see situations from an eternal perspective. These are choices. These constitute choosing patience.
For me, I’ve found great comfort and help knowing that God does love me. He loves all of us, and wants the best for us. Just remembering this, and even meditating on it, can calm our worries and remind us that God will only grant those desires that are truly best for us.
I’ve also found that my patience seems stronger if I stay focused on eternal things. When I’m going to the temple, doing missionary work, and really trying to help others, I feel more able to hand my troubles over to God and know that he will take care of me. President Russell M. Nelson said it best: “When the focus of our lives is on God’s Plan of Salvation and Jesus Christ and his gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives.”
That’s truly the formula for the peace we all seek. That focus keeps everything else in perspective, and we become a patient people.
Hilton’s LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.