EngagePerspectivesThree Ways that Patience is a “Conquering Virtue”
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Three Ways that Patience is a “Conquering Virtue”

Chaucer suggests that patience is something that “conquers.” What does that mean? Lately, circumstances surrounding COVID19 and the results of the 2020 election have forced us to wait. Waiting for a vaccine, for example, has seemed like an endlessly painful process. Waiting for votes to be counted is another recent example that required emotional fortitude. The circumstances have sometimes felt like they have been conquering me, making this feel more like a surrender than a victory. How can patience conquer and what precisely is it conquering? Three stories illustrate some answers.

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Patience is a conquering virtue.

—Geoffrey Chaucer [1]

1. Patience Conquers: The Unreflective Life

This weekend we celebrated my brother-in-law’s fortieth birthday. In a quiet moment, we asked him to share what he is learning. A deep thinker, Mark expressed gratitude for his life so far, his wife, four kids and his job as the head of a private secondary school, yet he said he felt like up to this point using a sports metaphor, he’s been playing defense. He wanted to start thinking about playing offense; about taking care of himself by getting more sleep and exercise; about considering intentionality around other aspects of his life as well.

My brother-in-law is taking the long view. He is choosing to take a deep breath, and to patiently and deliberately map out some slow burn, long term plans. As Benjamin Franklin said, “He that can have patience can have what he will.”[2] Patience conquers momentary changes in circumstances and helps us avoid being swept away instantly by each alteration. A perspective of patience is more likely to allow you to shape the circumstances as they come—fitting them into your long view plan; trusting each step along the way.

2. Patience conquers: Hasty Rejection

Growing up in suburban Philadelphia, my mother often took us to a shop that no longer exists. It was established by a man who fought in World War II and witnessed the intense wreckage of Europe. It changed him. When he returned home, he dedicated his life to finding old furniture tossed out by the side of the road and restoring them to beauty. His shop was filled with beautiful treasures that he took time and skill to restore.

His example points to another aspect of patience, the type that restoration requires. It is easier and more efficient to throw old things away, to quickly label them useless and worthless. To take time to work with things or more poignantly to work with people flies in the face of a culture so ready to reject and move on.

3. Patience Conquers: Despair

Long suffering is often substituted for the word “patience.” It is a good reminder that waiting does not always feel contemplative, it can feel like suffering. My neighbor, Bob, has been caring for his wife for many years. It has taken its toll on him to experience his once vibrant wife now unable to leave the house. Along with caring for his wife, Bob pours attention and time on his lovely garden. On a recent beautiful day, he was out walking saying that he has not had time for exercise since his wife got sick but he is going to try to make an effort to build back the habit again.

Along with his garden and healthier body, Bob is nurturing the kind of practices that conquer despair because they build hope. They are slow practices and do not yield immediate results but their steady application build a conquering kind of long suffering. The Bible says, “love is patient” and I see that in Bob. [3]

Beyond Conquering, Patience Gives Happiness

A Swahili Proverb says, “Patience attracts happiness; it brings near that which is far.” Finding a way to look ahead in your life to happy moments to come and to wait for them, brings them into this moment. Not only restoring hope, this type of living restores happiness which can sustain us for the waiting ahead.

[3]I Corinthians 13:4

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