When I see the word patience listed in Galatians 5 with the other fruit of the spirit, I groan. I’m reading happily along with love, joy and peace, and then… patience. Ugh, I say to myself. I know I’m not patient. Just watch me try to fold a fitted sheet.
Temper tantrums, waiting, inconvenience—this is what I think of when I think about the word patience. But patience, as talked about in the Bible, is much more than remaining calm in the midst of fitted-sheet frustration.
Take the new believers in the book of James as an example. These people were Jews recently converted to Christianity. Because of their new beliefs, they were rejected by their own people. Their own families. They were persecuted by everyone around them, and James tells them to do what? “You also must be patient,” he says. “Strengthen your hearts because the Lord’s coming is near” (James 5:8 HCSB).
The Greek word often for used for patience in Scripture is makrothyemia, which means… well, it means words that make me uncomfortable, such as:
Slowness in avenging wrongs
Patience is much deeper than something you practice when someone is hogging the bathroom. Patience—the longsuffering kind of patience—is something that arises when real trial strikes.
A few months ago my own longsuffering was tested. I went through a period of anxiety like I had never experienced before. It landed on me heavy, like a weight, and didn’t leave for a few months. Small, daily tasks felt almost impossible. My thoughts turned dark. I shouldn’t be feeling this way, I told myself. I’m on the cusp of a new career and a new relationship. Things are going well! Yet, I woke up and went to sleep exhausted, anxious, sad, and weary.
I would like to say that in this dark time I turned to God and said, “I trust you. I don’t understand what’s happening, but you do.” I wish I could tell you I did that, but no. Instead, I shook my fist, and I shook it hard. I was angry at God, and I tried desperately to escape the anxiety and darkness by my own means.
You could say I was the opposite of longsuffering. I was short-suffering, tiny-suffering, microscopic-suffering. I realized in those few months that my pain threshold is nearly nonexistent and, even still, I know most of you reading this have weathered much worse. My life was not bearing the fruit of patience because somewhere deep down inside of me I didn’t trust my God. And somewhere even deeper inside of me, I had lost hope and convinced myself I was alone.
But there’s an amazing thing about the word longsuffering in the New Testament: it is almost always an instruction given in the context of hope.
Romans 8 says, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now… We ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits—we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (vv. 22-23 HCSB).
And in Galatians 6:9, we’re told, “We must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up” (HCSB).
WE groan. WE don’t give up. I love that word “we” because it means we are not in this suffering thing alone. Better still, we do not wait without hope! As Matthew Henry says, we can look at our circumstances “with an eye to a future glorious recompense: Be patient to the coming of the Lord.”
We do not wait in vain. We wait for our God—the God who has promised and secured our full redemption through Jesus Christ.
Ultimately, it was my community who pulled me out of the dark time. They reminded me of who God is and who I am in Him. They reminded me of His love, and after a while my anger dissipated into something that looked a little more like patience, a little more like longsuffering.
May we do the same for each other in the face of our trials. Let’s longsuffer (yes, I made this a verb) together. Let’s look at our lives with an eye to a future glorious day when suffering is but a long, forgotten memory of this earth.
Andrea Lucado is a freelance writer and Texas native who now calls Nashville, Tennessee, home. When she is not conducting interviews or writing stories, you can find her laughing with friends at a coffee shop, running the hills of Nashville, or creating yet another nearly edible baking creation in her kitchen. One of these days she’ll get the recipe right.