“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love. . .” (Ephesians 4:1-2)
When we find the word “patience” in Scripture, it usually refers to one of two things: waiting for something, or enduring some sort of suffering. Well, have you ever watched a child who is trying to wait patiently for something? It can actually be quite comical.
From the time they are born, children are horrendously impatient.
Who has heard of an infant who waits patiently for her milk? When a baby is hungry, you can’t just say, “Ok, little one, I know you want me to feed you and I will, just as soon as we get home,” and have a quiet little baby on the way home. No, that baby will be screaming louder with every second. As they grow, little glimmers of patience start to develop, but when my toddler drops her toy in the van floor and I reasonably explain that I can’t reach it while I’m driving but will get it as soon as we stop, I almost always have frustrated tears on my hands. She is not reasonable at all when it comes to waiting.
Preschoolers and younger school age children are not that great at waiting either. I have one son who finds waiting particularly hard. This son also happens to be the kid who bounces. And when I say he bounces, I mean the child never ever walks, never ever stands still. I think he has springs in his feet. When he wants to talk to me but I’m on the phone or talking to someone else, he literally bounces from side to side, or in circles around me, or up and down the length of the room until I am finally free or just cut the other conversation short because I’m dizzy from his bounces and I need him to stop. And who has ever gone on a road trip with children without hearing at least 27 times that infamous question: “How much longer til we get there?”
And how often do you see children suffer patiently? Children usually suffer quite loudly. There is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t run toward the sound of tragic wailing, thinking for sure that I’m about to walk in on a gruesome scene with terrible injuries, only to find a kid with a paper cut or a stubbed toe. We (so far!) have only had one broken bone at our house, but the decibel level of the suffering seems to be the same whether the bone was broken or the skin barely scratched.
So I can’t really encourage you to look at children and the patience that they model, like I have with the other fruits. Patience, however, may be the fruit that most often comes to mind when we start talking about the children in our lives. God has used my children more than anything else in my life to develop patience in me.
One sentence I hear over and over, after the initial comments of shock and awe over our family size, is “You must have the patience of a saint!”
Moms tell me they could never have more kids, or never homeschool, because they aren’t patient enough. Everyone seems to know that spending any time with children at all requires patience, and the more kids, the more patience is required. Here’s the thing, though: I wasn’t born with the patience required to mother six children. No one is. Instead, God develops patience in us as we work through trying circumstances.
Let’s be honest. Loving children, investing in their lives, is not always roses and sunshine, but patience is something that grows on the job.
Ironically, you have to actually be around children in order to develop the patience necessary to be around children. If God had given me a window into my 2017 life back in 2002, as we were dreaming about starting our family, I might would have run for the hills. I can understand how, as people who aren’t used to children peek into the window of a church nursery full of rambunctious two- and three-year olds, they might feel justified in their belief that they don’t have the patience necessary to work with children. But children have a knack for helping that patience-fruit grow in us, when we are brave enough to actually sit down on the floor and learn from them.
The process of learning patience from children isn’t easy. As we already noticed, it doesn’t come from watching the patience they display and then imitating it. On the contrary, it comes from entering into the fray, going through some tough and stressful moments and surviving without screaming or losing your temper. Children teach us patience by crying inconsolably, by arguing over who gets to walk out the door first, by repeatedly jumping on the couch no matter how many times we’ve told them to stop, by interrupting our sleep 8 times a night, by perfecting the art of coming up with new ways to make messes. They also teach us patience by stopping to look at every rock on the sidewalk as we head into the library, by getting distracted four times while they are supposed to be putting their socks on, by insisting on exercising their new-found independence to button their shirt by themselves even though it takes an unbearably long time and you are already late.
Sometimes, my sin clashes with my child’s sin and things get ugly, but the Spirit of God is gracious in those moments, ready to empower me to respond to their sin with the patience that He shows me in my own sin. Frankly speaking, there are still plenty of moments when I give in to my own impatience, when I plug up my ears and refuse to listen to His voice gently reminding me that impatience has no dominion over me. But nothing helps me in my impatience with my children more than remembering the patience God has with me:
Exodus 34:6 “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.’”
Nehemiah 9:17 “They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.”
Psalm 86:15 “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
1 Timothy 1:15-16 “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”
2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
The Lord is patient with us, slow to anger when we sin against Him or act foolishly. His Spirit works in us, enabling us to bear the fruit of His patience in our own lives as we put aside our own desires for ease and comfort and love society’s tiniest little sinners.
Loving children and investing in their lives also works patience in us by forcing us to wait. I don’t know a single mom who only had to teach her child one time to obey her voice. No, we have to teach them over and over again, repeating the same words a million times throughout their childhood. We labor and labor, and it takes years before we see the fruit of our labor. Patience-fruit grows in us as we wait. Those who teach children at church may present the gospel to a child hundreds of times before that child finally has his eyes opened by the Spirit and understands. Patience-fruit grows in the meantime. Parents of a child who has rebelled may pray for decades for that child to run home. Patience-fruit grows sweetly in their heart as they cry out for the child they love. Waiting can be so hard, yet God promises sure reward for those who wait for Him.
Psalm 25:3 “Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame.”
Psalm 37:34 “Wait for the LORD and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on when the wicked are cut off.”
Psalm 40:1 “I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.”
Psalm 62:5 “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.”
Isaiah 40:30 “Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
Lamentations 3:25 “The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.”
There will always be a wait for the harvest when you invest in children.
Sometimes the wait seems unbearable, but we must not lose heart. We must not give up. We must not say there is no hope. God calls us to invest, so we invest, and then wait for Him to bring the harvest. And while we wait, the fruit of patience ripens in us.