Viewpoint: The Godly Attribute of Patience
Contributed By the Church News
- As we exercise patience in tribulation, we can experience understanding, happiness, and peace.
“Patience is always involved in the spiritual chemistry of life—not only when it helps us turn trials and tribulations, the carbon dioxide, as it were, into joy and growth, but also when it builds upon the seemingly ordinary experiences to bring about happy, spiritual outcomes.” —Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve (1981–2004)
A 5-year-old girl spent an eagerly awaited afternoon with her grandma as her mother ran errands with the girl’s older siblings. To the kindergartener’s delight, her grandma asked for her help in baking a three-tiered chocolate cake. The little girl carefully helped her grandma crack the eggs, pour the oil and flour, and very dutifully assisted in licking the beaters.
To her 5-year-old attention span, however, the 45-minute countdown on the oven timer seemed like an eternity. The little girl repeatedly opened the oven door to peer inside at their sweet creation, despite her grandma’s warnings. When the timer finally beeped, the little girl was dismayed to find that the cakes had all sunk in the middle. “We have to be patient,” her grandma gently scolded.
But, as both children and adults know, waiting can be hard. “We live in a world offering fast food, instant messaging, on-demand movies, and immediate answers to the most trivial or profound questions. We don’t like to wait,” noted Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “Some even feel their blood pressure rise when their line at the grocery store moves slower than those around them” (“Continue in Patience,” Apr. 2010 general conference).
But patience—the ability to put desires on hold for a time—is a rare divine attribute or, as Elder Uchtdorf explained, “a purifying process that refines understanding, deepens happiness, focuses action, and offers hope for peace. … Ultimately, it means being ‘willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us], even as a child doth submit to his father’ (Mosiah 3:19).”
Impatience, however, is inherently selfish. As noted by Elder Neal A. Maxwell: “When we are unduly impatient, we are suggesting that we know what is best—better than does God. Or, at least, we are asserting that our timetable is better than His. Either way we are questioning the reality of God’s omniscience, as if, as some seem to believe, God were on some sort of postdoctoral fellowship” (“Patience” [Brigham Young University devotional, Nov. 27, 1979], speeches.byu.edu).
In the April 1987 general conference, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles cited a lack of patience as a major cause of the difficulties in the world: “Too often, we are impatient with ourselves, with our family members and friends, and even with the Lord. We seem to demand what we want right now, regardless of whether we have earned it, whether it would be good for us, or whether it is right. Some seek immediate gratification or numbing of every impulse by turning to alcohol and drugs, while others seek instant material wealth by questionable investments or by dishonesty, with little or no regard for the consequences. Perhaps the practice of patience is more difficult, yet more necessary, now than at any previous time” (“Patience, a Key to Happiness”).
And while a lack of this attribute is centered in self, an abundance of it reflects love and humility, Elder Maxwell taught.
“The patient person assumes that what others have to say is worth listening to. A patient person is not so chronically eager to put forth his own ideas. In true humility, we do some waiting upon others. We value them for what they say and what they have to contribute.”
Patience combined with love “in the process of time” enables us to detoxify disappointments, he said. “Patience and love take the radioactivity out of our resentments.”
In the scriptures, the Lord’s steadfast disciples are repeatedly counseled to be “patient in affliction” (see D&C 24:8). The Apostle Paul gave the purpose of patience in his epistle to the Saints in Rome: “We glory in tribulations … knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope” (Romans 5:3–4).
“The children of Israel waited 40 years in the wilderness before they could enter the promised land,” Elder Uchtdorf said. “Jacob waited seven long years for Rachel. The Jews waited 70 years in Babylon before they could return to rebuild the temple. The Nephites waited for a sign of Christ’s birth, even knowing that if the sign did not come, they would perish. Joseph Smith’s trials in Liberty Jail caused even the prophet of God to wonder, ‘How long?’ (D&C 121:2).
“In each case, Heavenly Father had a purpose in requiring that His children wait.”
That is because in His infinite patience with us in becoming like Him, Heavenly Father knows it is required for our growth.
Elder Maxwell said that patience is to human nature what photosynthesis is to nature. The process of photosynthesis brings together water, light, and chlorophyll to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen as part of the process of making food and fuel, he explained. “The marvelous process of photosynthesis is crucial to life on this planet, and it is a very constant and patient process. So, too, is an individual’s spiritual growth. …
“Patience is always involved in the spiritual chemistry of life—not only when it helps us turn trials and tribulations, the carbon dioxide, as it were, into joy and growth, but also when it builds upon the seemingly ordinary experiences to bring about happy, spiritual outcomes.
“Patience is, therefore, clearly not fatalistic, shoulder-shrugging resignation; it is accepting a divine rhythm to life; it is obedience prolonged. Patience stoutly resists pulling up the daisies to see how the roots are doing!” Or, in the case of the 5-year-old girl, pulling open the oven door before the timer goes off.
For those who wait patiently for the Lord, Elder Uchtdorf promised: “He will incline unto us. He will hear our cries. He will bring us out of a horrible pit and set our feet upon a solid rock. He will put a new song in our mouths, and we will praise our God. Many around us will see it, and they will trust in the Lord (see Psalm 40:1–3).”