One day I was standing in a long line at the post office, watching the electronic number display slowly climb toward No. 78 – my turn. There was only one station open. Some folks around me were fussing about how ridiculous it was that there weren’t more clerks on duty and how it shouldn’t take 30 minutes to mail one package.
I jokingly said, “Well, at least we get to enjoy each other’s company. So how about those Cardinals (our local baseball team)?” The people who were fussing laughed and said, “Yes, you’re right, we should probably try to be patient.” The atmosphere lightened, and the people standing close by began talking about how well our team was doing.
Finally getting up to the counter, I saw a little sign that read “BE PATIENCE – NEW CLERK IN TRAINING.” It made me laugh. The head clerk had probably meant to write “BE PATIENT.” But I appreciated the mistake. There’s a subtle difference in thinking of ourselves as people who are trying to express the adjectival form of the word, and actually being patience itself. In a way it strengthens our ability to fulfill the request.
If we are just human beings stuck in circumstances that try our patience, and then we try hard to be more patient, we may hit the limits of our capacity to maintain composure. A mother can feel frustrated by the endless demands of her children. A commuter in traffic can feel flustered by being late for a business meeting. A traveler at an airport can feel overwhelmed by a canceled flight.
But there is a different way of looking at ourselves. The Apostle Paul wrote, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:22, 23). We could reason that we are all “the fruit of the Spirit,” because we are the children of God. So we actually could see ourselves as love, joy, peace, longsuffering, and so forth.
Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, confirmed this way of identifying ourselves when she described “man,” representing both men and women, as “... the compound idea of God, including all right ideas; ... that which has not a single quality underived from Deity” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 475). In other words, we are not a bunch of mortal beings trying to express spiritual qualities and falling short, but are made up of God’s “right ideas,” and so cannot fail to express who we inherently are.
Since that day at the post office, I’ve been finding a powerful healing strength in identifying myself and others more consistently as “the compound idea of God,” especially in regard to patience.
For instance, recently I was notified that a flight I was taking in 24 hours was canceled because of “possible” weather conditions in the city through which the flight connected. It seemed odd to cancel so far in advance for possible bad weather, and I wondered if the airline was being fully honest. I didn’t have time to be put on hold while I waited to get on another flight, if there was one. I felt anger and righteous indignation building up within me. I had carefully selected this flight so that I could get a ride from the airport and be part of a dinner gathering in support of a friend’s spiritual needs.
Suddenly, while I was on hold, it dawned on me that goodness is not so much about going somewhere at a certain time to meet someone’s spiritual needs, but is about being goodness at every moment, to every situation that comes up. And I knew that acknowledging myself to be these attributes of God would enable me to be wherever I needed to be. I would be there at the perfect time and in the perfect way. The impatience and frustration I was feeling melted away.
In moments I had rescheduled the flight. In many ways, the new timing was much better than what I’d planned. But the point was that the phone call, the flight, and all the details relating to the trip took on the qualities of patience and peace that I was acknowledging myself to be. It was a successful trip all around.
So, no matter what red tape, complications, burdens, time constraints, or fatigue we might be facing, our ability to be patient doesn’t depend on circumstances. It is built into our being as the very expression of God, and so is contingent upon God alone. We can feel it in an airport, in a traffic jam, or while we’re cleaning up peanut butter and jelly. Because God is expressed in us, we can always be patient.