Learning to Wait


I have never done a search to see how many times the word for “patience” is used in the New Testament – but my general impression is that it is a lot. Patience is not only a virtue, it is utterly necessary to our life in Christ.

I can recall having almost no patience at all as a young man. At age nineteen I was sure that the Second Coming could be no more than 5 years away. When older people would speak about patience I found myself getting angry with them. I believe that I generally thought patience was the excuse older people used for doing nothing.

Now I have come to see that patience is often the wisdom of doing nothing. This is not the same thing as laziness. One can work hard and pray, and be aware of how little they in fact know about the things that matter. What does another soul need for his/her salvation? How do we correct another soul in such a way that something is learned and you haven’t just crushed another human being?

This part of my list could be magnified enormously. We are to have faith in God – which is where patience comes in to play. Having placed something into God’s hands, we often have a secret timeline in our mind. If God has not done anything about it in a week, then we’ll see to it ourselves – as if the slowness of God’s timetable gives us permission to ignore God.

Commiting something to God may mean waiting the better part of a lifetime. This was the case with the patriarch Abraham. Salvation moves along at an almost imperceptible pace. Grace does it’s work in such a way that it frequenly remains hidden to most eyes. If you read about the Holy Spirit (what little the Scriptures say of Him) it is clear that He is the most silent and hidden of Persons.

To pray, keep the commandments and to remember God is the task we have before us everyday. With patience these will accomplish a perfect (complete) work.

This morning I drive in a rental car from St. Vladimir’s Seminary to Syosset on Long Island. Everyone around me speaks of traffic jams. Time to learn patience.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.


13 responses to “Learning to Wait”

  1. Meg Avatar

    You drove from Crestwood to Syosset?!?!?! I’m from NYC, and *I* would never do such a thing. That’s what trains are for!!! 😉

  2. JP Avatar

    Ever read W H Vanstone, The stature of waiting? It’s a really interesting take on the passion narrative – Jesus as the one who waits, and by extension, Christians as those who wait. Worth a look!

  3. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you for this reminder, Fr. Stephen! I especially appreciate this:
    “To pray, keep the commandments and to remember God is the task we have before us everyday. With patience these will accomplish a perfect (complete) work.”

    I have also been struck with the various editions of the Bible using the words patience and perseverance interchangibly, for example, in Romans 5:3

    New King James Version:
    3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance;

    King James Version:
    3And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;

    Patience and perseverance are not always one and the same to me. I’m going to go search for my Orthodox Study Bible and see what it says about this!

  4. Jeff Lee Avatar
    Jeff Lee

    KJV: Patience – 33 times, patient – 8

    That is rather a lot.

    Patience is something that I keep getting reminded of now that I’m Orthodox. I am slowly learning that what I used to think of as my “sense of urgency” was really just impatience dressed up.

  5. Jeff Lee Avatar
    Jeff Lee

    Margaret, fwiw, here’s the Strong’s bit about the word in question:

    5281 hupomone hoop-om-on-ay’ from 5278; cheerful (or hopeful) endurance, constancy:–enduring, patience, patient continuance (waiting). see GREEK for 5278.

    I could have gone on without knowing the “cheerful” part. I clearly am no where near that.

  6. Coroebus Avatar

    LOL! Very dry, Jeff. Me too.

  7. November In My Soul Avatar

    I agree that patience is often the wisdom of not doing anything. Like opening my mouth when I have only negative things to say. Fortunately as the years continue their inexorable march my capacity for patience has at least marginally increased. If only I could learn patience faster!

    And thanks for the Bob Dylan post. I respect any man who can write a song about a brand new leopard skin pillbox hat .The man is a genius and often writes beautifully of the ever-encroaching end times. How about “All Along The Watchtower.”

  8. Ronda Wintheiser Avatar
    Ronda Wintheiser

    Not too long ago I was in a relationship with someone whom I came to realize is an alcoholic. Eventually I had to come to terms with the fact that his reliance on alcohol had stunted him and made him so toxic that I was becoming “poisoned” by being close to him. (Addictions are contagious… )

    I had put so much effort and passion and intensity into trying to “save” this person; I had always felt that love meant doing something; that it was incumbent on me as someone who loved him to help him. I felt a terrible urgency about it because time slips away from us so imperceptibly and yet so relentlessly… I wanted his healing to happen NOW… YESTERDAY…!

    Your post today reminds me of something someone said to me when I began to attend Al-Anon meetings to try to recover my Self from the ruins…

    This old-timer, eyes twinkling, said to me…

    “Don’t just do something… Sit there…”

    : ))

  9. fatherstephen Avatar

    I patiently drove through NY traffic, with mapped directions written by my oldest daughter – and occasional telephone corrections from one of my sons-in-law. It’s not exactly the easiest place to get around. But despite all of that I attended the meetings that were scheduled, visited children, and managed to get to airports on time. Generally a good exercise in patience. Having reached home early Tuesday afternoon – I will probably crash for awhile and check back in on things this evening.

    I had the joy of seeing an old acquaintance, a convert priest like myself, whose son was also at seminary with my sons-in-law. This was graduation weekend. I recalled what a long time ago that day was for me (1980) and how completely life changes afterwards. And I wept a little with everyone there (just because I’m a weepy kind of guy). I would not have thought in 1980, as I was graduating from an Episcopal seminary, that I would be watching sons-in-law graduating from an Orthodox seminary and everything else that goes with it.

    One of them gave the valedictory address. God is most kind.

  10. Damaris Avatar

    Elizabeth Gray Vining, a Quaker writer, has an essay about patience in her book, The World in Tune. She begins with a quotation from Chaucer:

    “Patience is thilke vertu which suffreth debonairely alle the outrages of adversitee and every wicked word.” (Trans: Patience is that virtue which endures debonairly all the outrages of adversity and every wicked word.)

    Then she goes on to say, among other things:

    “Patience, as we usually think of it, is anything but debonair. It is a wan, martyred sort of attitude composed of endurance and unshed tears, uncomfortable alike to the possessor and the beholder. In the vocabulary of heads of modern states, who are quick to declare that their patience is almost at an end, it is rage held with difficulty in check, like a bloodhound straining at a leash. In short, patience as we know it is really impatience. No wonder it is a discredited virtue.

    “The patience which is debonair (that is, according to the dictionary, characterized by grace and lightheartedness) in meeting outrageous misfortune, injustice, and insult, is something else altogether. No longer negative and pitiable, or angry, it sheds its drab garments and wears a scarlet cloak over its heart of gold.”

  11. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Akira Kurosawa, the Japanese film director, made a movie called Kagemusha, the Shadow Warrior. The point of the movie is patience. A great war-lord is dying. He gets a look-alike to take his place. The last instructions to his stand-in are to do nothing even though there are constant callenges being made by other war-lords. Just wait. Well, the stand-in ultimately can’t take it. He comes out of the fortress and engages in battle. The fiefdom is destroyed. Everytime I see it, it sheds light on St. Paul’s instruction: “In your patience you possess your soul”

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