I think when we talk about patience in terms of a quality we don’t feel like we possess (”I used to be so patient”), we are talking about a kind of patience that isn’t really a virtue at all. That kind of patience is about enduring the present moment until a better one comes along. It’s a gritting-one’s-teeth-and-getting-through-it state of mind.
It’s how many of us endured countless hours of our lives in school. The kids who didn’t patiently endure were the ones labeled troublemakers. Patient endurance is how most people get through hours in line at the DMV, or (to poke my own self here) the interminable waits in doctor’s offices. There is no moment-savoring going on in that kind of patience. In fact, often ‘being patient’ really just means ‘being quiet and not making a fuss’ while resentment or irritation is churning underneath.
I certainly have done this too. I served my time at school -- 17 plus years, but I will only count the first 13 as "doing time" because after that I had a bit more choice. And I too have served my time at the doctor's office.
One of the seven capital sins in the Christian tradition is called "acedia". It is usually translated into English as Sloth which in turn gets translated in our productivity-oriented society as "laziness", but it means something rather different than laziness. Josef Pieper says (ht to the blogger at mind your maker):
“One of the most central concepts from the moral philosophy of the High Middle Ages is that of acedia, which we, very ambiguously and mistakenly, are accustomed to translate as “laziness”. Acedia, however, means this: that man denies his effective assent to his true essence, that he closes himself to the demand that arises from his own dignity, that he is not inclined to claim for himself the grandeur that is imposed on him with his essence’s God-given nobility of being” (A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart, p. 51).He also says:
One who is trapped in acedia has neither the courage nor the will to be as great as he really is. He would prefer to be less great in order thus to avoid the obligation of greatness. Acedia is a perverted humility; it will not accept supernatural goods because they are, by their very nature, linked to a claim on him who receives them” (Faith, Hope, Love, p. 119).
I think the "bad kind of patience" that Melissa discussed relates a bit to acedia, or at least it does for me. Too often, I "serve my time" and endure what ought to be a delight. Thereby I lose the privilege of drawing closer to what I am intended to be. Thereby I close myself into a little box, limiting myself to finding delight in what I naturally have a preference for. Doctor's offices are one thing, but when I am bored and restless spending time with my little ones, or impatient about having to deal with the 100th quarrel or need in a day, that is something else. Like Melissa, I should know better than to take these joys as a given. If Aidan taught me nothing else, I should have learned that these very repetitions are privileges of the greatest magnitude.
Consequently, I loved what Melissa wrote in her comment box:
"My religion says to treat other people the way I would like to be treated: unschooling, as understood by Sandra and Joyce and others, is a way of living that out, day by day, moment by moment, with the people I have the most contact with. My religion says to “count it all joy,” every moment, even the tough ones, and to give thanks in all things. You can’t be thankful about things you don’t notice; being more observant and seeing something of interest in everything, everywhere is what lets you count it ALL joy."These are all connected to something I'm thinking through right now, but that's the best I can do right now.
Aidan keeps calling me to look at how he can make his hotwheel cars zip down the race track to the "garage" he made out of an old doll house, and it reminds me of that quote from Chesterton, from The Ethics of Elfland, which also seems to have something to do with what I'm trying to think through:
I get tired when I think of trying to see the beauty in every face, or trying to deal with every hot wheel's plunging descent into the makeshift garage as if it were the first one. But my tiredness is not a mature thing, it's an old, decaying thing, and I am going to resolve to try to pay more attention to the small things, the beauty in the repetition and the simple.
The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life.
The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.
But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.
If you look at the Parenting Peacefully page you'll see I have revisited this regularly through the years.
This has nothing directly to do with anything else but I found this "Rosary as Remedy" series and I liked it, so I wanted to make sure I put it down on the blog in order to remember it.