Love is Patient

“Love” is the first and most important word of the marriage vows. Marriage is for spouses a road to sanctity that offers them the best conditions for growth in the love of God and neighbors until a complete unity with him is achieved.

Hanna and Xavier Bordas

Jesus gave us a new commandment: to love one another as he has loved us. (John 13:34) It is for this reason that the bride and the groom, in saying their marriage vows, undertake to carry out the commandment of love in their life together. A lot has been written about love, but perhaps nobody else has described it so beautifully as St. Paul did in the First Epistle to Corinthians. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) The phrases of this hymn are worth studying more deeply in order to understand its sense and message. 

Patience as the Name of Love

We know well the first assertion from the Hymn of Love: “Love is patient.” Since patience is mentioned first as the characteristic of love, we can consider it to be the first name of love. Curiously, the core of the word, like in many other languages, derives from a root meaning to suffer: to suffer not only adverse external circumstances, but also to tolerate the individuality, difficult character or views of other people. It is worth noting that a good number of separations and divorces are precipitated by spouses having too little patience with each other. Help in this respect is offered by St. Catherine: “Now I wish to tell you further, that a man proves his patience with his neighbor when he receives injuries from him … Good men produce and prove all their virtues when dealing with their neighbor … A just man abides in justice, owing to the virtue of patience.” (St. Catherine of Siena, Treatise of Divine Providence)

We know well enough that even if the engagement has been conflict-free, soon after the wedding misunderstandings between the spouses can quite often take place due to differences in character coming to light. They may disagree over conflicting expectations of marriage and family, the personality of the spouse or the in-laws, and sex. Meanwhile, their life together is not like living in the promised land, flowing with milk and honey, but rather it might become like a task that is given to couples to toil in a wasteland. The wasteland must be cultivated slowly and cleared of weeds to make it fertile with time. 

God Teaches Us Patience

We will always look to God, who is “slow to anger,” as a role model. (Exodus 34: 6; Numbers 14: 18) Many a time, we feel that the more we cling to God, the more he surprises us with his infinite patience and mercy. His divine mercy towards us shows the true power of love. The Virgin Mary – our most patient Mother – is also the most perfect human example of devotion to God and patience towards our neighbor. St. Joseph tried to emulate her by patiently and meekly enduring hardships when his faith was tried. One of these situations was the finding of Jesus in the temple. 

In marriage, signs of impatience will appear sooner or later, especially when the idealized picture that we have created of our husband or wife is shattered. At this stage we become intent on making our lives “humanly” all right, on sorting out our relationships and satisfying our own selfishness. We recognize the signs of impatience: raised voices, sulky expressions, annoyed reactions, anger, complaints and pride (“it is me who is right”).

After years of living together, however, we still have a problem with impatience. Anything can cause irritation. There are often things of which we are not fully aware, such as differences in temperament and attitude, cultural customs and traditions, habits concerning order, punctuality and finances, or even seemingly trivial things like planning free time. 

You have to learn to accept over and over again the way that others are and simply be with them and pray for them. Jesus gives us, through the mystic Alicja Lenczewska, the following words of encouragement: “Be like me towards the people I send to you: constantly loving, understanding, infinitely patient, ready to do anything to save and enrich their souls.” (Testimony, 211) When everyday hardships start to weigh you down, remember that you have invited Christ into your relationship in the sacrament of marriage and that he is truly present in it. Sometimes, it is good to look at a crucifix hanging on a wall in your home to realize what a great help for us Jesus’ sacrifice is and how we can rise again from our downfalls thanks to him and his power.

The Patience of a Parent

New reasons for irritation appear in marriage when children are born, as when the spouses (or their respective families) have differing views on child-rearing, aside from the stress, fatigue and sleepless nights. The overwhelming amount of chores prevent us from using old safety valves, such as indulging in our favorite pastimes. Situations multiply when our faith is tried: the children get sick, there are problems at work, we fear losing our means of livelihood – the list goes on. Family life exposes our weaknesses, selfishness and pride, hence a call is also heard to be patient with oneself: “But the soul must have even greater patience with itself.” (Sister Faustina’s Diary, 115) 

All the situations that we cannot cope with can be used as opportunities to practice patience. This involves not only strengthening this virtue by working to improve oneself, but above all understanding God’s guidance, which always leads to confidently entrusting oneself to Divine Providence. “Abide by me, patiently and quietly bear and do whatever comes your way, because it comes from me, even though it is given by people.” (Testimony, 635) You may find help in viewing the hard truth about yourself by following God’s way – let your faith act as a witness in the community and avail yourself of the ministry of a confessor. Look for good books to read and seek the advice of wise people. We might find ourselves in very difficult situations, as in the case of alcoholism or addiction of a family member; in these circumstances we need support so as not to collapse under the weight of the cross. Remember, too, that false patience is sometimes encountered when, in seeking internal peace, we withdraw into our own world and do not search for solutions or take any action in agreement with God’s will, and above all, when we do not pray and pin our hopes in God.

Alicja Lenczewska wrote down an instruction from Jesus: “Sainthood is found in daily life, in enduring what is small and paltry. In offering thanks for what is boring and tiring. In tolerating people: their drive towards domination, their garrulousness, pettiness, and lack of self-control. Work on opposite characteristics in you and my Love for people – showing patience and sympathy.” (Testimony, 192) When we are short on patience, this is a sign for us that we do not believe that God is love and that Divine Providence controls everything. After all, God always gives what is best for us, even if he lets evil happen or difficult situations arise, which we often do not understand. Impatience is an act of disbelief that God takes care of everything. An act of impatience may turn into disobedience. 

How to Cope with Impatience?

What can you do when some form of impatience appears? Turn immediately to Jesus and with contrition humbly ask him for mercy! Each time when you lose patience treat it as a sign of disobedience. If you are particularly short-tempered, be grateful, because this sign of your weakness is an opportunity to run to Jesus and there to become as one with him! Jesus admonishes us: “Avoid judging people, especially if this is one-sided. Try to notice their virtues. Notice the traces of my love that has created them and survives in them. Look for me in them, extend to them merciful, understanding and patient love – always ready to help. Be for them the way I am for you.” (Testimony, 245)

It is also good to surrender your impatience to Our Lady. At the moment of impatience the simplest way is to thank her for her patience towards you and towards your neighbor. Furthermore, it also helps to follow the example of saints, for instance, St. Faustina, who said: “Patience in adversity gives power to the soul.” (Diary, 607) 

In marriage, as you get to know each other better, you experience God ever more strongly and his patience with both of you. God’s patience is often revealed through a spouse. How many times do you have to admit that you have overdone it while trying to win an argument? When, in turn, you would expect another storm, instead of accusations you meet with goodness and understanding! This should then inspire a feeling of gratitude in yourself and strengthen your faith in the presence of Jesus in your marriage. Moreover, the birth of children reinforces us and naturally solves many marital difficulties and quenches earlier grudges, misunderstandings and grievances. The grace of parenthood brings into marriage new kindness, protectiveness, tenderness and patience.

As children grow, you discover that they are different from what you expected and you do not understand fully the way they function. Often they do what they want, refuse to listen to your advice and give you plenty of opportunity to practice patience. Their internal world is another trial to you. You worry about these loved ones drifting away from the Church or giving up on the sacramental life. Try to accept even those failures of faith as an invitation to practice patience. 

Patience, being the most important characteristic of love, bridges the world of your fancies and expectations with the real one. It makes us capable of building lasting relationships, despite differences between us. Patience is the skill of enduring suffering without rebelling, and carrying your cross with hope, dignity and love, following in the footsteps of the Lord by being in union with him. If you treat your cross as a way of love that encompasses even the fullness of life, your horizons expand, and you will develop understanding and magnanimity. Jesus says: “Perfection is about bearing your own imperfection, together with that of your neighbors in humility and patience.” (Testimony, 413)

You need to believe always that God loves you and that his love is stronger than your weaknesses. This is what Sister Faustina tells us from her experience: “In the midst of the worst difficulties and adversities, I do not lose inner peace or exterior balance, and this discourages my adversaries. Patience in adversity gives power to the soul.” (Diary, 607) Your love of God, marital love and parental love are all tainted with selfishness. Do not be discouraged, however, by your failures. God comes to the scorned and the most unworthy ones to make them his friends. Your faith in God’s incredible love should be a source of hope for you and raise your spirits at the time of failure or impatience.