Made me smile.
I remember being a 16-year-old behind the wheel of our family’s red station wagon, learning to drive with one of those hand-made signs taped to the back window. I remember my dad sitting in the passenger seat and being very, very quiet the first time I merged onto an interstate with the semis whizzing past.
Maybe that why when I see a car with a student driver, I don’t get upset if they take forever to decide it’s finally safe to make that left-hand turn. Or if they’re entering the highway at 35 mph and I have to slow down and accommodate them.
Been there, remember that.
It made me think about how I’m willing to be patient with others when I can identify with their predicament. And the many other times when I quickly run out of patience.
Truth is, patience isn’t one of my strong points. I can be pretty patient in some settings — waiting in check-out lines doesn’t bother me for some reason. But if I get caught in traffic on the interstate, that’s a whole other story.
And when it comes to being patient with people, I really have a lot of room to grow. I prefer that people learn things at my rate, grow at my pace, follow my timetable in figuring things out. I want others’ journeys to conform to my itinerary.
I know that’s selfish. People grow and learn at their own pace. Each of us picks up on some things quickly, but we’re slow learners in other areas. We have to experience things in our own way and make our own mistakes. Sometimes, we have to make the same mistake more than once in order to learn from it.
Relationships always involve people who are at different places in some aspects of their lives. And it takes patience to make it work.
A lot of patience, actually.
Paul’s profound and poetic description of love in his letter to the Corinthians includes a list of love’s characteristics. And the very first one on his list?
Love is patient.
That certainly wouldn’t be my first choice. Maybe I would pick kindness, which is Paul’s second choice. Or some other characteristic. But not patience.
But here, love starts with patience.
And we should consider that maybe Paul’s got it right.
In a sense, we’re all student drivers throughout our lives. We’re all amateurs. Each of us has a “Student” sign taped to our back window. And we need to be gentle and patient with ourselves and with each other.
When we’re patient, it’s much easier to be kind — the second quality of love on Paul’s list.
To be patient with someone is to love them for where they are right now, including the ways they’re struggling. It means loving the other person for who they are. It involves encouraging them, waiting on them, allowing them to learn and grow at their rate.
Perhaps that’s one of the ways we can tell whether someone really loves us: Are they willing to be patient with us? Are they encouraging us to grow at our pace and in our unique ways? Do they accept our screw-ups as part of the process? Do they love us through our many phases?
Love involves waiting on the other.
Of course, being patient doesn’t mean accepting everything as it is. Just like the student driver, we need to improve as we go along. We need to pay attention and try not to repeat our mistakes. A lot of effort is involved.
Patience involves persistence at becoming a more loving person.
Also, it doesn’t mean that we should encourage others’ harmful decisions. To keep with the analogy: If we’re in the car with someone who is behind the wheel and driving dangerously, we should insist that they stop. If they won’t, we need to get out of the car for our own protection.
Patience doesn’t accept what’s contrary to love.
So, where does this all leave us? In a sense, back behind the wheel, trying to figure out how to make a smooth turn. Tapping our foot on the brake when we feel we’re going a little too fast. Realizing that we’re getting a little better at driving with each mile we travel.
And remembering to be patient with ourselves and with all of the other student drivers in the world.
Because above all, love is …