Patience. The very word can cause us to roll our eyes. That's because when we think of patience, we think of waiting. And we don't like to wait.
But it seems as though we're always waiting for something. Waiting for a certain thing to happen, for one thing to begin, and another to end. Waiting for more time or more money. Waiting for our marriage to get better, or for our spouse to change. Waiting for the kids to grow up. Waiting for our prayers to be answered.
Waiting can be painful and difficult—especially when it comes to our need for change in marriage.
But God says that waiting is good. That's because it produces patience in us.
The apostle Paul tells us that patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit—in other words, patience is a byproduct of God's work within us. He describes it as "longsuffering" (Galatians 5:22, NKJV), a word that, according to Webster's dictionary, means "long and patient enduring of injury, trouble, or provocation." Can you think of a marriage that doesn't require a certain amount of "longsuffering"?
But how long are we willing to suffer provocation? How patient are we when we most need to be?
The truth is, we can't have patience without the waiting. But just because we're waiting doesn't necessarily mean we have patience. It's how we wait in marriage that's most important. Do we wait with a good attitude?
I know a couple in which the husband is always on time and his wife frequently runs late. When he taps his fingers loudly, grows angry, and paces anxiously while spewing stinging barbs, he doesn't practice patience! He's waiting, yes. But it's forced waiting, and it never accomplishes what he hopes it will. Neither does silently fuming. Patience and a good attitude go hand in hand. Patience is deciding that his mate is worth the wait and doing it calmly. On the other hand, his wife, who runs perpetually late, needs to show patience with her husband's various expressions of impatience.
Paul makes it clear that not only are we supposed to desire patience, we're to pursue it (1 Timothy 6:11). If you're like me, the thought of pursuing patience doesn't bring forth shouts of joy and excitement!
But when we chase patience, it pleases God. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:1-2: "I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love."
So how do we pursue patience?
One way is to ask God for it. Prayer has an amazing way of helping us become more patient.
Let's be honest, though, prayer is about the last thing we feel like doing when our patience is being tested, isn't it? But we can pray about whatever is causing us to be impatient. For example, my friend can pray for his wife who's always late and ask God how he can help her be on time. Maybe she's overloaded with too much to do. Or she tries to fit too much into a day. Or she's trying to be perfect. On the flip side, she can ask God to help her be better organized, or have a clearer concept of time and how much of it is needed in order to accomplish all she needs to do.
Whatever the case, remember that each prayer, even when it seems to be about the same old thing, has new life in it each time you pray it. Prayer sets something in motion, even your spouse—though that may not seem immediately detectable.
Make a mental adjustment.
I've found one of the best ways to develop patience is to think of my waiting times as "waiting on the Lord." So instead of waiting on my husband to change, I think of waiting on the Lord to work changes in him. And in me! That whole mind adjustment makes it much easier to be patient with my spouse. Waiting on the Lord gives me the sense that something is going on, I just can't see it at the moment. But I wait with eager anticipation to see what God is going to do.
Every time we lose our patience, we can stop and thank God for keeping his with us. The apostle Paul reminds us: "Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus" (Romans 15:5, NKJV). We can thank him for his desire and willingness to give us the peace that passes all understanding, and for helping us rest in his perfect timing. If we are to "consider it pure joy" when we go through trials (James 1:2), how much more are we to do that in the daily trials that occur in our marriage?
Through my own marriage, I've discovered that patience means biting my tongue when I feel like wagging it. It means learning to "shut up and pray" when I'd rather "open up and vent." For many years I thought that telling my husband my every thought—as I was thinking it—was "constructive communication." (Isn't that what a good marriage needs?) But it was destructive instead, because my husband wasn't ready to hear all that. It actually pushed us further apart. When I learned to pray more than I talked, things started to improve.
Don't give up.
Patience means learning not to give up when it looks as though your spouse is never going to change, or when it seems as if the things that bother you are never going to be any different. My husband's anger was always the biggest problem for me in our marriage. I came into the marriage with a lot of hurt from the past, and his temper caused me to hurt even more and withdraw from him.
Because anger is a hard habit to break, especially when a person has entertained it for a long time, things grew only worse as time went on. But as I learned to react less and not take each angry outburst personally, and as I learned to pray more for him about every aspect of his life, I saw God make changes in my husband that I could never have imagined. His anger gradually manifested less and less frequently and intensely.
Whenever you're faced with an impossibly tenacious and irritating trait in your mate, turn to God and praise him as the God of the impossible. Thank him that because all things are possible with him (Mark 10:27), you know that only he can make changes that last in your marriage. Invite him to do just that.
Grow your faith.
Patience means working on growing deeper in your relationship with God, especially when it appears that the only thing growing deeper in your life is the divide between you and your mate. Patience means remembering that it could be worse, and deliberately looking for the good in the other person.
Patience means expressing the positive when everything in you wants to point out the negative. It's deciding to overlook some irritating things and, instead, think about the eternal future set before you. This means knowing that because you didn't divorce when you considered it, but determined to be patient instead, your whole family can now celebrate holidays and birthdays and life together.
The most important reason of all to pursue patience is that it's one of God's attributes. When we're patient, we're more like him. The apostle James writes that the testing of our faith produces patience, and patience perfects us and makes us complete so that we lack nothing (James 1:2-4). If that's true, then we can be grateful whenever our spouse is late, or irritating us in some way, because he or she is helping to perfect us. Through practicing patience with our spouse, our mate is helping us become more like Christ! So each time you find yourself in a situation where you have to make yourself pursue patience, try to think about how perfect and godlike you're becoming. It really helps.
Stormie Omartian is bestselling author of numerous books including The Power of a Praying Wife, The Power of a Praying Husband, and her most recent, The Prayer that Changes Everything (all Harvest House). Stormie and her husband, Michael, have been married 32 years.
Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.