Patience for me is directly linked to my level of irritability. I rarely feel restless or discontented these days, but irritability always seems right around the corner. A few months ago while I was complaining about this thing or that, my wife said, “it seems like almost everything irritates you.” I thought deeply about this and she’s right, it doesn't take much to rile me up. I identify with the character on the TV Show Curb Your Enthusiasm. Little things bother me. It’s impossible to practice patience when life is constantly nipping at me.
I believe I was born cranky just like I was born alcoholic. It’s the temperament I showed up with. My dictionary defines patience as “good-natured” tolerance of delay or incompetence." I do not have a good-natured personality. Even on days that everything is going my way, the best I can hope for is “begrudging” tolerance. I’m not making excuses for myself. This is just the way I am.
My tolerance and patience is tested almost anytime I get into my car. In China everyone blows their horn impatiently. If you are one second late in moving when the light turns green, you might have three or four horns blaring behind you to get going. The horn blowing got so bad the government passed a law that made it illegal to blow your horn unless to avoid danger. Americans are much more patient, at least where I live. After the light turns green, the folks in my neighborhood wait patiently for the woman ahead of them to finish her text message. Sometimes the texting lady will give a wave in the rear view mirror as if to say, “sorry.” My neighbors wave back as if to say, “no problem.” The best I can do is wait three seconds before hitting my horn. Then when I speed by the woman I glance over at her with my “stop being an idiot and pay attention” expression.
“Begrudging tolerance” is a huge step up from where I was when I started my spiritual journey in Alcoholics Anonymous. Back then I excelled at seeing the glass half empty - at finding what was wrong with practically everything. If walking in a beautiful garden, my eye would focus on the one weed. The program of Alcoholics Anonymous - meetings, steps and service - has reduced self-centered fear and altered my perception. Today I am see the glass half full more often than not.
The way I figure it, God is teaching me patience by filling my life with delays and incompetent people. When I am finally able to tolerate reasonable delays and clueless people, I will no longer face these experiences. There would be no point. Changing me is God’s job, but I have to want to be changed and do my part. I can somewhat control my irritability and thus practice more patience by staying away from that fourth cup of coffee, by not allowing myself to get too tired or hungry and by keeping spiritually fit by doing all that was suggested in my first week.