Read below for a guest post from Lorna Bradley.
“Love is patient; Love is kind.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4a
The irony did not escape me. Years ago at the first session of a six-week support group I outlined the topics I planned to cover. Then I offered that if there were other topics folks would like to discuss we could add those as well. I decided to grease the skids of the group member’s creative thinking by offering some suggestions, “We could talk about siblings, resilience, patience…”
“Yes! Patience! I need that!” one participant exclaimed.
I offered, “Would you like me to rearrange lessons and do that one sooner rather than later?”
I got an enthusiastic, “Yes!” from every participant.
Why so impatient to talk about patience? Maybe because it is something that is hard for everyone. Virtually every special needs parent I know has commented about how they have more patience than they ever thought possible, but that they also wished they had even more. Patience encompasses so many aspects of life related to parenting a child with extraordinary needs. Coping with insurance and the medical minefield, scheduling therapy, the (for some) unending quest for diagnosis, and over-committed schedules all contribute to a losing patience. Is chronic lack of sleep a familiar companion? Let us not forget the “homework wars” looming large right around the corner with the new school year. Any one of these reasons, plus many others as well, may push patience to the breaking point if reserves are low.
As Christians, we are meant to strive for patience. It is a virtue to be cultivated. The Apostle Paul writes of patience in several of his letters to churches he founded or planned to visit. In his letter to the churches in Corinth, he expounds on the characteristics of love. The first attribute of love is that “love is patient” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Paul writes to the churches in Galatia listing the fruit of the Spirit, the qualities cultivated in your life when living as a follower of Christ filled with the Holy Spirit, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things” (Galatians 5:22–23). To the Colossians he writes, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:12-13).
Paul writes of the importance of cultivating patience because even two thousand years ago people struggled with patience. I suppose some comfort comes in knowing it is a universal area for personal growth, but how do we cultivate it? How do we learn to become more patient people, especially in the midst of long-term stress and difficulties? When I think of what it feels like to lose my patience, there comes a tipping point and beyond that patience is broken.
In my book, Special Needs Parenting: From Coping to Thriving, I included a chapter about patience that includes strategies about unlocking each person’s triggers for losing patience. Here is an excerpt from the book offering a few strategies to combat those triggers:
Breath prayer/mantra. Breath prayer involves picking a word or short phrase and repeating it silently or aloud in conjunction with the pattern of breathing. Breathe in to the thought “Love is patient.” Breathe out to the thought “Love is kind.” Alternate phrases include: “Breathe on me breath of God,” “Create in me a clean heart,” or “Let there be peace.” Any phrase that is peaceful and centering for you is appropriate to use in those moments when patience is at the breaking point.
Exercise. There are physical symptoms that come before a loss of patience: fidgeting, tensed muscles, some describe a tingling sensation. Hard exercise releases pent up tension. Make regular exercise a part of your routine. In the heat of the moment, if appropriate, do some push-ups, crunches, or lunges. Run around the block. Play racket ball against the garage door. At times I would ask my son to run to his room as fast as he could to get something, and I would time him. I would be very impressed by how fast he was and then ask him if he thought he could do it even faster. By the time he raced up and down the stairs five times, he was tired, his frustration was gone, and he was in a great mood from endorphins and playtime. If running in the house is against the rules where you live, a trip to the car in the garage or the mailbox could serve the same purpose.
Journal. Emotions and tension need expression in order to be processed and released. Some find journaling a great resource for sharing feelings of frustration, resentment, and impatience. Through that process you can gain a deeper understanding of self. If you have concerns about a person reading your journal, use electronic media that can be password protected or secure a written journal in a private place.
Prayer. Never underestimate the power of prayer. It does not have to be a long prayer, and it does not have to be out loud. Simply pray, “Loving God, I am at the end of my patience. I am overwhelmed and I don’t feel I can hold it together right now. I need you to strengthen me. I need you to calm me. I need you to give me peace. Most of all, I need you. Amen.” What a powerful lesson for a child who struggles with behavior to hear you pray a prayer like that, or for you to pray together.
Communicate. Talk to someone about your frustration. It helps! If a person is the source of your frustration, have a conversation with him or her at a time when you are calm and have a clear perspective. Opening channels of communication is likely to help alleviate the strain. If the source of frustration is not a person, but rather a situation, confide in a spouse, good friend, or pastor who can be objective and help you look for solutions or simply provide a sympathetic ear.
Find support. Being part of a community of people on a journey similar to your own is helpful. It provides a forum where you can be easily understood because others live with situations similar to your own. Find a place where you feel that you belong and can connect in a meaningful way that is rejuvenating. Others living your with similar experiences may have resources and helpful tips that will provide a solution to your problem. Even if others cannot offer a solution, it is healing simply to be heard and understood.
There are no perfect parents and everyone will lose their patience at times. Give yourself permission to be human. With intentional practice and anticipation of situations that will test patience it is possible to improve personal patience.
Patient God, Thank You for the gift of patience when we feel stress and for the gift of forgiveness when our patience is broken. We welcome Your strength and peace in all things. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Lorna Bradley is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church and author of Special Needs Parenting: From Coping to Thriving, She serves as a Fellow at The Hope and Healing Institute and has led parent support groups for five years. She writes a weekly blog for parent support at her website. She and her husband have an adult son with Asperger’s.
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