English Faculty Member
Bio not available.
How many of you (you don't have to raise your hands) have had a moment of impatience today? Were you impatient with time, with another person, or with yourself? A combination of all three? Each of us has ample opportunity each day to struggle with impatience. So let's talk about it.
Impatience is always in a hurry to get things done. Impatience doesn't like to take time with details. Impatience wants to excel at things on the first try. Impatience wants others to work smoothly into its plans-it doesn't want to have to make changes or tolerate others quirks or inadequacies. Impatience wants what it wants NOW, without having to wait. Impatience is spoiled and egocentric.
Patience, on the other hand, is key to developing a Christ-like nature. Today I'd like to share with you what I've learned about patience, using two key talks-- a classic talk by Elder Neal A. Maxwell, titled "Patience," and a recent conference address by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Continue in Patience." Building on insights from President Uchtdorf and Elder Maxwell, I'd like to use the following definition of patience for the rest of this talk.
Patience is a way of demonstrating faith in God by:
Putting our desires on hold and submitting to his timing
Sustaining our obedience when results are not immediate or obvious
Allowing others to exercise their agency in order to progress
PUTTING OUR DESIRES ON HOLD AND SUBMITTING TO HIS TIMING
In the article "Tommy and the Gumball Machine," Jean Ashby tells the story of her son, Tommy. Her little boy was following her into a store and was allowed a penny to get a gumball out of a machine. His mother continued into the store to get a cart, and the automatic door closed behind her. When Tommy struggled to turn the handle on the gumball machine, he became distressed. His mother noticed, but couldn't get back through the automatic doors. She indicated that he should take a step towards her, so the doors would open, but he clung to the gumball machine, afraid he wouldn't get his treasured gumball if he stepped away from it.2
It seems like some of us are like Tommy by the gumball machine. We feel that God has deprived us of something we really want, when he might actually ask us to step away from it for a time so that he can reward us with it at a later time.
When I was at Ricks College, I worked part time and lived at home so that I could save money to go on a study abroad at the Jerusalem Center in Israel. I worked for years to save up enough money to go on this trip, depriving myself of a lot of things and opportunities that I would otherwise have enjoyed. Finally, the time came...I was accepted to the program and ready to go. Unfortunately, the first Gulf War began on the day we were to have left, in January 1991. I was devastated. I had looked forward to this for years, and now it felt like all of my hard work was for nothing. But things took an interesting turn. Although going to Israel was my main goal, I also had dreams of traveling through Europe and seeing many of the famous cultural sights of the world. As weeks passed by, they said that I could attend Fall semester in Israel, which was less expensive and left me with enough money to also go to Europe on a tour with the Humanities department at Ricks College. Like Tommy by the gumball machine, it had seemed like I was being deprived of something I really wanted, when later I got that plus so much more.
I'm not implying that going on a trip is a matter of eternal importance, but this experience began to teach me about accepting changes in my plans. I experienced something similar later in my life. After graduating from Utah State University, I obtained my first teaching job. My first year was extremely difficult, but after a few years I was enjoying my job and my students. I began to feel impressions that I should return to school for a Master's degree. I resisted these impressions. I explained to Heavenly Father that graduate school wasn't really necessary since what I wanted was to get married. Why take the time and money to get another degree when I was perfectly happy to wrap up my career and get married? Like Tommy, all I could hear was "you aren't going to get your gumball."
Well, finally I stepped away from the gumball machine and returned to school and the moment classes began, I knew I was where I needed to be. Now I'm here a BYU-Idaho, something I could not have done without an advanced degree, and I'm working on my PhD at Idaho State University. This is not the life I planned for myself, but it is a deeply rewarding life that has brought me a lot of happiness.When God asks us to step away from the gumball machine it is often to give us other blessings...things that he knows will make us happy and help us to grow. It is detrimental to refuse to move simply because he's not giving us what we want right now. Please think of that as you are faced with similar challenges... a relationship that doesn't turn out the way you want it to, feeling that you might need to change majors, not getting your dream job immediately out of college, or not having kids on the timeline that you had for yourself.Elder Maxwell wisely says, "Patience is tied very closely to our faith in our Heavenly Father. Actually, 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."3
SUSTAINING OUR OBEDIENCE WHEN RESULTS ARE NOT IMMEDIATE OR OBVIOUS
While obedience may seem simple enough, sustained obedience can be a challenge. As Elder Maxwell says, "Sometimes what we are doing is correct enough but simply needs to be persisted in-patiently-not for a minute or a moment but sometimes for years."4 Persisting like he suggests might cause our enthusiasm to lag because it seems that nothing is happening.
The Brother of Jared and his fellow travelers were led miraculously to the sea only to wait there for four years. From the record we have, it seems that the brother of Jared stopped praying as fervently or maybe completely. Keep in mind that this is a man that everyone went to because he seemed to have such a direct connection with God. People had faith in his prayers. And he stopped praying. In fact, God "talked with him for the space of three hours," and "chastened him because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord."5 From this you can see that sometimes it's hard to sustain our obedience and enthusiasm when it seems like there are no results.
So what should our attitude be during these times? Elder Maxwell says, "The seeming flat periods of life give us a blessed chance to reflect upon what is past as well as to be readied for some rather stirring climbs ahead. Instead of grumbling and murmuring, we should be consolidating and reflecting, which would not happen if life were an uninterrupted sequence of fantastic scenery...Patience helps us use rather than protest the seeming flat periods of life, becoming filled with quiet wonder over the past and with anticipation for that which may lie ahead."6
For example, a friend of mine married later in life-age 39. She had dated and had several relationships that didn't work out. Some of her friends who were also older and single chose to date people who were not members and to stop living according to church standards. Perhaps they felt that since they weren't being blessed with a husband, there was no point to living the law of chastity and other church standards.
Wendy stayed faithful. She had a successful career as an interior decorator and realtor, she served as the Relief Society president in her home ward, she was an active influence in the lives of her nieces and nephews, and she revitalized the singles program in her stake and region. At age 39 she married a wonderful man and became a step-mother to three young boys. Had she not used those decades where it seemed "nothing" was happening in her life, she would not have been prepared for the immediate demands of motherhood. She said of this waiting period, "I think probably the greatest thing about getting married later was learning how to truly rely on the Lord and realizing that I am not alone in any struggle that I have. If I had married earlier I would have relied on husband and family and maybe less on the Lord. Learning to rely on the Lord prepared me for being a mom a little bit better. Having to wait for marriage makes me appreciate what I have more. You go into marriage really wanting to make things work."
All of us will have flat periods in our life, where it seems that nothing is happening. It might even feel like God has forgotten us. What will we do during this time? Will we dig deep for the resolve to stay obedient and faithful, taking the opportunities that are given us, or will we become lax and disobedient and feel sorry for ourselves?
Some things in our lives happen on a schedule--birth, baptism, receiving the priesthood, serving a mission. Others happen in their own time (although we may feel that everyone else is doing them at a specific time). Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said, "Because of things over which we have no control, we cannot plan and bring to pass everything we desire in our lives. Many important things will occur in our lives that we have not planned, and not all of them will be welcome. Even our most righteous desires may elude us or come in different ways or at different times than we have sought to plan."7
Who knows why we don't get everything we want when we want it. Maybe the obvious reason is that God is testing us. Life is a test. Elder Maxwell reminds us, "God simultaneously tries the patience of his people even as he tries their faith."8 But even as he tests us, he blesses us abundantly. I personally feel humbled when I realize that although God isn't giving me everything I want, when I want it, He is pouring out other blessings on me, as he does on all of us, if we take the time to notice.
Another task that requires sustained obedience is trying to overcome our weaknesses. At times we might feel tired of struggling with the same things every day. In our recent conference, President Uchtdorf said, "God wants to help us to eventually turn all of our weaknesses into strengths, but He knows that this is a long-term goal. He wants us to become perfect, and if we stay on the path of discipleship, one day we will. It's OK that you're not quite there yet. Keep working on it, but stop punishing yourself."9 He also said, "I want to tell you something that I hope you will take in the right way: God is fully aware that you and I are not perfect. Let me add: God is also fully aware that the people you think are perfect are not."10
Like many of you, when I was growing up I tended to devote my time to things that I naturally excelled at. But I learned something valuable when I chose to devote some time to something that I'm not naturally good at. A few years ago, I decided to train for a marathon. I have never been a regular runner...in fact, I was pretty vocal about the fact that running was torture to me. In spite of these feelings, I decided to overcome my fears and train for a marathon.
While I never ran fast, and definitely didn't break any records, (You know the people at the very, very end of a race? Well, I was just ahead of them.) I learned that running a marathon is all about time and patience and just putting one foot in front of the other. That's the essential decision that I had to make...keep going, one step at a time.
Changing things about ourselves is basically the same. One foot in front of the other, day after day. This takes a lot of patience. I have a calendar on the wall in my bathroom that I see every day while I'm getting ready for work. This is where I track my progress on habits I'm trying to either get rid of or obtain. I've noticed that as I track my progress, I get a better sense of how I'm doing on making these changes. Sometimes, it's frustrating and I am discouraged with my lack of progress. I wonder why I can't just decide to do or not do something and be done with it.
But I also know that my willpower can only take me so far. After I've expended my best efforts, there is still usually a significant gap between what I can achieve and what I want to be. This is when grace steps in, which, according to the Bible Dictionary is "divine means of...strength and assistance to do good works that we otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to our own means."11 In some cases, only earnest fasting and prayer will make the difference in helping us obtain a quality or make a needed change in our lives, but I testify that it will happen, even when we've struggled for years to make a specific change.
In an Ensign article from 1981, Dennis R. Peterson shared the process he used to overcome some of his weaknesses. He realized that the key to changing his behavior was to learn to love the things that God loves...to feel the way God does about different issues. He decided to try this as he overcame his lack of desire to go to church. He says:
"Cautiously, I chose my first target. It wasn't very earthshaking, but it was a persistent problem. I didn't enjoy attending church. So, morning and night, I would pray: "Lord, bless me to feel about our worship services just the way thou dost. Help me to find in them the things that thou wouldst find. Help me to participate in the ways that thou wouldst." And tremendous things began to happen. Sunday became a day filled with light; I found myself hungry to greet the other members of the Church, to share my testimony with them, to learn from the teachers, to express in song the feelings I had no words for, and to partake of the emblems of our Savior's sacrifice with humility and gratitude. Sunday became a Sabbath. No longer was attending church a matter of suppressing my desire to rest, read, study, ski, or play. Now it was an expression of righteous, loving desires."12 He later used this same process to overcome angry feelings towards a co-worker.
Making these types of changes takes patience. It means starting over every day and trying to do better than you did yesterday. This can be frustrating. It's easier to just say, "This is who I am and I can't change" but such an attitude ignores the power of the atonement. The whole purpose of our earth life is to learn from our experiences. To lazily defend our weaknesses because it's too difficult to change is to ignore the tremendous weight the Savior has already borne for us in the hopes that we will make the atonement an active tool for change in our lives. Let's not ignore that gift.
ALLOWING OTHERS TO EXERCISE THEIR AGENCY IN ORDER TO PROGRESS
Doesn't it sometimes seem that other people are only on earth to make our lives miserable? Perhaps it's a family member, a roommate, a coworker, a teacher (or a student), a neighbor, or friend. Sometimes it seems easier just to avoid difficult people as much as possible. I don't believe that is what Heavenly Father has in mind.
When you cut into an onion, you see many different layers. Similarly, the longer you know someone, the more you become aware of different layers to their personality. Some people have lots of positive layers at the top-qualities that make us like or respect them and want to be around them. These people often become our dear friends. Others have lots of negative layers at the top which make them prickly and difficult to be around. We tend to avoid these people or even think of them as our enemies.
The truth that I'm discovering is that all people have bad and good layers. Even the people we love and hold close will have some negative layers that we'll have to deal with. These layers might be quirks or odd habits that irritate us, they may be more serious layers caused by sin, or they may be emotional difficulties that are caused by circumstances beyond others' control such as emotional or mental disorders or the effects of abuse. On the other hand, those we think of as our enemies also have good layers...good qualities that we don't see at first or simply choose to overlook because we are so annoyed by their bad layers.
Either way, people's negative layers will cause us some discomfort. Then we have to decide what to do with that discomfort. Patience would say that we have to focus on the good and learn how to handle the bad. Again, the atonement is key in this step. As mentioned before, we can pray for the father to soften our hearts towards that person...to see them as he does. In his classic talk, "Jesus: The Perfect Leader," President Spencer W. Kimball said, "We must remember that those mortals we meet in parking lots, offices, elevators, and elsewhere are that portion of mankind God has given us to love and to serve. It will do us little good to speak of the general brotherhood of mankind if we cannot regard those who are all around us as our brothers and sisters."
Just think of the number of people on this earth that you will never meet. Doesn't it seem likely that those we do meet are more than mere coincidences or inconveniences? They are the people that God would have us learn to love and serve. My mission president reminded missionaries of this when they called asking to be transferred from a difficult companion. "Yes, I can transfer you," he'd say, "but what are you going to do when you have a child or spouse that acts just like them? You can learn the lesson now or later. You choose."
President Kimball goes on to say, "[Jesus] gave [his disciples] important and specific things to do for their development. Other leaders have sought to be so omnicompetent that they have tried to do everything themselves, which produces little growth in others. Jesus trusts his followers enough to share his work with them so that they can grow. If we brush other people aside in order to see a task done more quickly and effectively, the task may get done all right, but without the growth and development in followers that is so important."13
Perhaps you've served in the church long enough to realize that efficiency isn't necessarily God's number one priority. Our growth is. We need to be reminded of this in our interactions with others.
One of the most dramatic examples of God's patience with our mistakes and His hope for our growth is when Joseph Smith lost the 116 pages. You all know that when Joseph asked if Martin Harris could take the pages, God told him no. He told him no several times. Finally, God let them have their way, with strong warnings about keeping the pages secure. Well, Martin lost the pages. When Joseph heard the news, he cried out in great agony: "All is lost! All is lost! What shall I do? I have sinned-it is I who tempted the wrath of God. I should have been satisfied with the first answer which I received from the Lord; for he told me that it was not safe to let the writing go out of my possession."14
Imagine how Joseph felt when he learned the God had foreseen his mistake. Keith R. Perkins writes, "The Lord had anticipated this event by at least twenty-four hundred years; many prophets had labored in part so that Joseph could repent and continue his work of translation. I know of no other example that shows better the Lord's foreknowledge and his love for us as individuals."
"The Lord had commanded Nephi to make two separate records: the large plates, primarily a political history, and the small plates, a religious history, 'for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not.' (1 Ne. 9:5; emphasis added.) Mormon was surprised to find the small plates of Nephi as he was abridging the records, but he, like Nephi, was impressed to keep the small plates separate, even though he did not know why. 'And I do this for a wise purpose; for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me. ... The Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will.' (W. of M. 1:7; emphasis added.)
"Two separate records had been kept by the prophets for almost five hundred years, not only so that the Lord's covenant with Nephi, Jacob, Enos, and others could be fulfilled, but also because of the Lord's great love for Joseph Smith. The existence of the second record made it possible for the Prophet to 'repent of that which thou hast done which is contrary to the commandment' of God. (D&C 3:10.)"
This experience lasted for three months. Joseph gave the manuscript to Martin Harris on June 14, 1828. He was not able to resume translating until September 22, at which point the angel Moroni returned the Urim and Thummim to him. His mother reports Joseph's words: "The angel seemed pleased with me, and he told me that the Lord loved me for my faithfulness and humility." Think of what Joseph learned from this experience, although it temporarily halted the progress of translating the Book of Mormon.15
Is our patience with other's mistakes as merciful as the Lord's? In this case, Joseph made a very real mistake with possibly eternal consequences. Would we be quick to condemn him and think the Lord should have chosen someone else? But think of what Joseph learned from this experience. He later could say with conviction, "Whatever the Lord requires is right, no matter what it is-although we may not see the reason thereof until long after the events transpire."16
Think of what we can accomplish if we learn to have this kind of patience with one another. In a quote attributed to Goethe, he states, "If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming."
An example of this concept comes from F. Enzio Busche. He was working with a young man in the Young Men's program in post World-War II Europe. This seventeen-year-old boy was working in a foundry where hot iron was poured into molds. One of the older workers regularly picked on the boy, stealing his tools, teasing him, and occasionally beating him up. One day, he again stole his tools. The boy went to the restroom, knelt down, and prayed. "He suddenly felt a great peace come into his soul. Calmly he went back to the man and apologized to him, saying, "I have accused you of things, for which I am sorry. I do not want to accuse you. I have so many reasons to be grateful that I am permitted to work with you. You are a good man, and I look up to you as an example, because I need to have an example in my life." These words were sincere, because the Lord had shown him the goodness hidden in that man.
The man broke down in tears. "I am not a good man. I am not a good example." He admitted to stealing the boy's tools and then said, "I am not worthy to be an example to you, but from now on, I will try." That was the beginning of a solid friendship.17
In closing, I suggest that patience is not just a trait that it would be nice to have. It is a trait that is vital to our progress as disciples of Christ. Vital to becoming like our Father. As Elder Maxwell wisely said, "The more I examine the gospel of Jesus Christ, the more I understand that the Lord's commitment to free agency is very, very deep! So much deeper than is our own. [This commitment to agency] combined with his everlasting and perfect love places a high premium on the virtue of patience. There is simply no other way for true growth to occur."18 The Lord loves us and he sent us here to learn and grow. For that to occur, we must have patience with ourselves and others. Patience like he has.
In closing, let me review. Patience is a way of demonstrating faith in God by:
Putting our desires on hold and submitting to his timing
stepping away from the gumball machine
Sustaining our obedience when results are not immediate or obvious
using the flat periods in our lives to progress
Allowing others to exercise their agency in order to progress
looking for the positive layers in peoples personalities and helping them to develop
When I think of the patience Heavenly Father has with me, I am brought to my knees in gratitude. He is the motivating and sustaining power in my life. Although he tests me, He has never left me alone and He has never stopped loving me. I want to humbly bear my testimony of that to all of you. He loves us. He will never fail us. Let us try to reflect just a portion of his patience in our own lives, is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ amen.
1 Uchtdorf, Dieter F. "Continue in Patience." April 2010 General Conference2 Ashby, Jean Kitch. "Tommy and the Gumball Machine." Ensign, Feb. 19963 Maxwell, Neal A. "Patience." Ensign, Oct. 1980, 284 Maxwell5 Ether 2:13-146 Maxwell7 Oaks, Dallin H. "Timing." Ensign, October 2003, 108 Maxwell9 Uchtdorf, Dieter F. "Continue in Patience." April 2010 General Conference10 Uchtdorf, Dieter F. "Forget Me Not." Ensign, November 201111 "Grace." Bible Dictionary12 Peterson, Dennis R. "To Love the Things God Loves." Ensign, Mar. 198113 Kimball, Spencer W. "Jesus: The Perfect Leader." Ensign, Aug. 197914 Perkins, Keith. "Thou Art Still Chosen." Ensign, Jan. 1993, 1515 Perkins 16 Jessee, Dean C. (editor), The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, p. 507-50917 Busche, F. Enzio. Yearning for the Living God. Deseret Book: Salt Lake City, 2004. 18 Maxwell
Patience: A Process of Perfection
Audio of Suzette Gee's BYU-Idaho devotional address Fall 2011