Thursday, January 31, 2013


In what is one of the most well known and often quoted descriptions of love, patience is the virtue listed first. 

Love is patient.

I love my three little ones so deeply; I’d lay down my life for them. But as much as I love them, and as much as I know I’d willingly sacrifice things of great value for their good, I often fail to parent them, in the ordinary moments of their lives, with patience.

Impatience has such power and, when I look honestly into my own heart, is often the overflow of anger and sin. I know that life with little ones is going to have moments of legitimate exasperation, moments where it’s probably quite alright to sigh, irritated that the entire box of cheerios, rather than merely half the box, was spilled across the floor. Exasperation is altogether distinct from the angry impatience that I glimpse lurking, at times, in my heart.

The impatience that I’m speaking of sounds less like an exasperated sigh and more like an angry snarl, quick to emerge when things don’t go as I’d like.

My oldest son is about to have his fifth birthday, which means that though I’m still relatively new to this whole parenting thing, I have also had a few years to see both good and bad trends in our home and in my own heart. For sure, there have been days or seasons of much grace where a slow, tender patience has been the theme. But a recurring struggle for me, and I know many other parents, is a desire but often failure to respond to the challenging moments of parenthood with a gentle patience.

Though patience is in many ways a spiritual struggle, there are also many practical elements that play a part. Of the many, there are four that come to mind.

1 ~ Getting enough sleep. How I parent my children in the morning is often connected to how early I chose to go to bed the night before. It’s not always possible to retire early, and sufficient rest, particularly in the early years, seems so elusive. But when it is possible, and when how much sleep is a choice within my power to control (as in, the choice to stop reading or writing or browsing Facebook or watching something on Netflix), I want to remember that loving my kids with patience the next day is more attainable after sufficient rest.

2 ~ Avoiding being late and rushing. Whenever we’re rushing to get somewhere and I haven’t allotted enough time for the process of getting our family out the door, I find myself angry and impatient over things that are light and innocent. If we’re not rushing, it can be funny to see how long long it takes a three-year-old to get their thumb in the thumb-hole of their mittens, or a four-year-old to zip up their snow-suit. But if we’re running late and rushing through this process, you’d see anger and impatience etched across my features. That is so sad and so wrong. 

3 ~ Not assuming the worst motive when kids make a mess. Children are mess-makers, and it’s actually almost impressive how quickly and thoroughly tiny little people are able to utterly trash a clean room. As kids grow older, there are, of course, many scenarios in which children need to learn how to keep things orderly. But I’ve come to realize that there are many mess-making instances, especially with preschoolers, when they’re not being little jerks intent upon messing things up. Before the impatient rebuke or instruction leaves the tongue, it can be wise to pause, assume no motive, and simply ask them what they’re doing; I’m often surprised by what I hear. The other day during an afternoon snack of yogurt, 3-year-old Joshua lifted a heaping spoonful to his mouth, paused, and, with an intent expression, inhaled deeply and then proceeded to blow the yogurt all over the table. My intuitive response in moments like that is to swoop in and clean, with a cascade of impatient words instructing him to stop making such a mess. A moment of quiet patience brought about something very different: Josh looked at the yogurt-splattered mess before him, and his beautiful face almost immediately settled into the contours of regret. He lifted his eyes to my own, and it was as though he assumed the forthcoming rebuke. Instead, I asked him a question: "Why did you do that, Joshy?" His words both softened my heart and continue to prompt me, at appropriate times, to give my little three-year-old the benefit of the doubt. “I was pretending that my yogurt was really, really, REALLY hot and that I needed to blow on it to cool it down. I didn’t mean to make a mess. I’m really sorry, Mommy.”

4 ~ Kissing them as often as possible. There are so many moments when, in the rush of life and the pattern of my own impatience, I seem to forget who these precious children are; I seem to forget they are these joy-filled blessings entrusted to my care. A moment of pausing from the rush of buckling kids into car seats or shoving small feet into boots, a moment taken to lean forward and gently kiss a child’s face is a surprisingly powerful way to slow the frenetic pace, to remember what this thing called parenting is all about.

What is parenting about? Well, a lot of things, I guess. And of course, there are many elements of parenting that can be complex, detailed, and with room for varied opinions.

But if there is one mark of parenting upon which we would all agree, it is this: Parenting is about love.

And love is patient.

If I love my children, I will not be complacent about the angry impatience that too often bubbles from within. As I strive to grow, as I seek to love them better, I will open God’s word and look to my own Heavenly Father who has loved me, His daughter, with such a gentle, patient love.