Patience is a Virtue

These remain difficult times: so much uncertainty, loss, and near impossible decisions to be made. Particularly over the last few months where we have tried to re-establish a normal, I have often found myself lamenting, among other things, the inefficiency that Covid has caused. One such occasion was on Friday evening, where it turned out I was wrong about my office’s opening hours with the current restrictions. Normally, we have 24/7 access, but it turned out that it shut at 8pm. When I pitched up at 8.15pm, I wasn’t locked down; I was locked out without my phone, keys, wallet and more. Thankfully, my dear lodging family were at home and university security allowed me back in the next day to retrieve my possessions, but what inefficiency!

In these days we currently find ourselves at greater physical, and therefore social, distance from one another. This means that getting things done can take a lot longer. Thankfully, not all of us are task-focused individuals who prize efficiency, but I happen to be one. This is undoubtedly something I have inherited from my own dear father. Sadly, he is no longer with us, after his untimely passing in 2012, but those of us who knew him remain so thankful for his life.

There is a long-standing tradition in efforts to comfort the bereaved to dwell on what the deceased has been spared. These often include calamitous events, of which Covid would be a classic example. There have been a few occasions where I have found myself thinking: what would my father have made of Covid? On one level, I suspect the confinement and lack of freedom would have frustrated him, as they have frustrated us all. He would have found the closure of golf courses and swimming pools for a second time particularly irksome, but he would have been gracious about it. As for delayed press conferences and confusing PowerPoint slides, he would have been far less impressed. Being a successful chartered accountant, he had high standards and stood for little nonsense or waffle. On another deeper level, however, I think he would have valued the chance to take stock and to spend time with close family and friends. Yet, I think he would have been distressed by other issues: the suffering, the loneliness, and the ways in which Covid disproportionately affects the poor and vulnerable.

November 2020 would have seen my father’s 60th birthday and I want to remember him well by considering one of his frequent aphorisms: ‘patience is a virtue’.

Fruit

As we finished up our Team Muir Zoom call on Friday morning, my mum said there was a fun gift coming in the post. An hour later, just as I was about to head out for the day, a basket of M+S fruit arrived. A very kind gift: preferable to a bouquet of flowers – and certainly a lot tastier! With characteristic creativity and devotion, my mum had written about the fruits of the Spirit in my birthday card. They appear famously in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV).

This is essentially a list of classic virtues. The fourth one in the list, ‘forbearance’ which translates the Greek word makrothumia, rendered more literally by the King James Version as ‘long-suffering’, is also commonly translated as ‘patience’ (e.g., ESV).

I can frequently recall my father saying that ‘patience is a virtue’: particularly in my younger years at mealtimes, when wanting to move onto dessert. Given Galatians 5, his words were rooted in truth. I have discovered in recent years that the supposed motto of the Muir clan is the Latin phrase: durum patientia frango (‘I break what is hard with patience’).[1] My father – who was very fond of the Classics and greatly encouraged me in that direction – would have agreed. Patience is inextricably linked to suffering and it is indeed a virtue. There is much virtue and courage to be shown in suffering. Some of the ancients embraced suffering rather readily as an opportunity to show virtue; but I wonder if Covid is forcing us to be courageous by showing patience, and whether there are lessons to be learned here.

Being patient will mean some adjustment in what we expect of ourselves and others in these next few months. Occasionally slowing down will be a sign of strength and not weakness. I’m not sure anyone gets this perfectly right – I know I don’t, and I know my father didn’t always – but I can remember my father often being good at ensuring that holiday time was holiday time, and although not a runner, he was very good at pacing himself and realistic in what he set out to do. Patience and realism go hand in hand.

Patience, then, is indeed a virtue and a fruit: something that will benefit us and those around us, providing a portion of the hope and peace that those in Christ are promised in an eternity with Christ. My father might not have celebrated an earthly sixtieth birthday, but he’s never been more alive and at peace with the one who is unfailingly patient towards us.


[1] The crest we found over the summer in St Andrews is particularly remarkable for depicting a Muir of colour – no doubt there are/were some! Shame about the small orthographic error: patentia instead of patientia.

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