As part of their legacy to me, my two grandfathers doled out lessons in patience. My Papaw Arthur had little tolerance for grumpy grandkids. If a pouty attitude crept out onto a protruding lip, he would be quick to say, “I’m gonna to put a rooster on that lip!” I was pretty certain he was serious, so I learned to control the cantankerous. My Grandpa Myers, who had endured a lifetime of adversity, saw no room for impatience. When he spotted petulance, he was quick to offer up a short prayer that made his point: “Lord, give her patience—RIGHT NOW.”
I came to the realization recently that scripture is full of impatient people. The Old Testament prophets were the chiefs of cranky and whiney. According to my pastor, John Sommerville, their job was to “point out what’s wrong with the world.” I imagine the prophets found it challenging to remain patient with those around them who didn’t see, and self-correct, their own flaws.
Does that sound a little too familiar? We’re pretty good at looking at those closest to us and pointing out their flaws, too. If our husband isn’t tackling the “honey do” list at the pace we want, it’s easy to get impatient. If our wife isn’t sufficiently supportive of our fishing and hunting expenses, it’s easy to be snappish. If our home-for-the-summer student spent the first week of their hiatus sleeping until two pm or our graduated senior is not ardently looking for a full-time position, it is easy to find ourselves feeling irritable.
We are innately equipped to point out the inadequacies in our companions faster than we highlight their potential. But that isn’t all we’re good at. Even the critical prophets were also equipped to envision future possibilities. I wonder if they were impatient people because they were so good at seeing the difference between what was and what could be.
I have a student in my extended family who is not on the traditional path. Instead of one and done, some classes have taken two tries. The hoped-for linear path to a degree has run off the rails several times. Four years became an on-again-off-again five, then seven. As if I were a prophet, I can tell you with certainty what went wrong with the world. Nevertheless, I still expected the path to the finish line to look different than it has, even though I know with equal certainty that the path has been full of challenges and this trajectory has not been intentional. If I am going to play prophet, I want to be more focused on what could still be ahead than what’s already wrong. I want to be acutely aware that in offering counsel, pointing out flaws is far less productive than pointing out possibilities.
Parents, as we approach summer with our continuing or newly graduated students at home, can I encourage us to tuck in our pouty lips and agitation? What can we offer besides Papaw’s playful poke? No roosters needed here! Maybe Grandpa’s prayer for patience is answered when the Lord allows us a measure of frustration as the means to teach the patience we are praying for.
Our students who arrive home struggling to put on their productivity or find their place in the world need our support more than our criticism. No, we shouldn’t fill out the job application for them. Obviously, we won’t be doing an interview on their behalf. However, we can offer a hand with job research. We can help them set realistic goals, talk through accountability, or serve as a sounding board for their own exasperation. Ultimately, when my prayer life focuses on using my potential to help others reach theirs, there is greater patience and productivity than when I allow my frustration to rule the roost (pun intended).