The distinct attraction of patience
For certain tasks I often work in cafes. I find the gentle hum of noise in a café is just what I need to bunker down and get really focused on what I’m doing. But on a recent visit to my favourite café it didn’t quite go to plan.
On this particular morning as I walked into the café I noticed it was really busy. That’s ok, I thought, I’m not in a huge rush. But not everyone in the café was quite so content with the situation.
About ten minutes into my work I suddenly realised there was someone talking very loudly behind me. That gentle hum of noise had been broken. It was one of those moments where you quickly realise someone is making a scene so you don’t want to turn around and stare. In this particular case it was a woman who’d been waiting a while for her order. I later noticed she was dressed in corporate clothes, obviously grabbing breakfast before work. Over the hum of the café noise I heard her angrily complain, “I’ve been waiting so long. No, it’s not my problem – it’s yours!”
You’re likely familiar with the kind of situation I’m talking about. In these situations I find myself awkwardly trying to keep my head down so as not to get drawn into it. Although I must also confess that on occasion, that person making the scene has been me.
Patience is in short supply in our society today. It can be very hard to find, especially in the workplace. Fast food is ordered in advance so it’s ready to pick up when we arrive. We tap and go to pay so we don’t have wait. And no longer do we simply watch television – we binge watch all 12 episodes of our favourite season now!
When it comes to the workplace there is the same drive to have it now. Deadlines get shorter, clients expect faster and faster turnarounds of their work, and the email I just sent you, why haven’t you replied already?!
Why is that? There are likely numerous reasons. But when I asked a number of my friends they all gave me the exact same answer: “I get impatient when I’m tired, and busy and under pressure”.
Given that “busy” is so often the answer that we give people today when they ask how we’re going, is it any wonder that one of the fruits of our busyness is an impatient society?
This is why when we encounter genuine patience it is profoundly counter-cultural. It’s distinct. It’s different. And I might add, it’s attractive. I think of a previous boss who seemed to always have time for my questions. That kind of patience isn’t quickly forgotten.
Where does patience come from?
This of course raises a question: where does patience come from? As a Christian, I would propose that it comes from the patience of God. The word patience is sometimes translated in the Bible as “long suffering”. It’s a word which has the idea of “taking a long time to boil”, which is a wonderful image for helping us understand patience. God is slow in His anger, He is patient, He takes a long time to boil. Why? God takes a long time to boil because He wants all people to embrace His love, kindness and grace.
Each day God causes the sun to rise. He bestows blessing upon blessing upon His creation. Yet He is ignored. And He could put things right as quickly as possible. But He patiently waits, He is slow to boil, such is His love for His creation. It is in gazing afresh upon this patience of God towards each one of us that we will find ourselves moved to patience in response.
Patience and the workplace
So how does this apply itself to the workplace? Let me make three suggestions:
Firstly, be slow to get angry
That is, be slow to boil, especially towards that person in your workplace who tests your patience, (that i - the person or process). When colleagues frustrate and annoy us, when they take longer than we want to get their side of a job done, be slow to get angry with them. Be patient.
Or when workplace systems seem to only hinder efficiency, when processes mean everything takes ten times longer than it should, when communication breaks down between head office and local teams, be slow to get angry about this. Be patient.
Of course, if someone has been given a deadline they need to be encouraged to be responsible in sticking to it. And if processes could be more efficient then we should speak up about it. But in doing this let us move slowly, act gently, act patiently.
Secondly, work patiently
Patience in the workplace will mean taking the time to offer to help those colleagues who might be struggling to meet a deadline. It will mean not giving short answers to someone who asks for help. And it will mean not interrupting others – you’ll wait to speak.
And patience should be displayed in the very work itself that we do. When people receive our reports, open our emails, inspect the finished product, the fingerprints of patience should be evident upon it. It should be evident that corners haven’t been cut, that the necessary time has been spent hearing from relevant parties, and that there is a willingness to go back and work on any suggestions.
Thirdly, be less busy
If it is the case as I argued at the beginning of this piece that impatience is a fruit of our busyness then we can only hope to become more patient if put less in our diary. We need to have margins in our days that can be filled if necessary when people need us to be slower with them and give them more of our time than we planned.
It is very hard to be patient with colleagues, clients or customers if your diary is filled with back to back appointments or tasks. You can’t sit and be present with someone if you’ve got your eye on the clock because you need to race to next thing. If you have been on the receiving end of this kind of impatience then you’ll know how profoundly counter-cultural it would be to experience the opposite.
Time to talk
Recently I was back in that same café I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, working on this article. I go to this café regularly, so all the staff know me by name. As I had my head buried deep in my laptop writing this final section one of the staff came up to me and quietly said, “Are you busy?” My first thought was, “Yes I’m busy, I’m trying to finish writing an article about patience!” But I paused, looked up said to this staff member, “No I’m not busy, I’ve got time to talk”.
We went on to have a lovely conversation about each other’s lives, and a discussion about the busyness of our society today and that people don’t have time to do what we were doing just now. Indeed, patience is counter-cultural, it is distinct, and it is attractive. And when we’re less busy we can actually take time when it arises to have conversations with our work colleagues about the bigger questions of life.
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Andrew Laird works for City Bible Forum in Melbourne and directs Life@Work - an initiative aimed at connecting Christian faith with our daily work. He’s also the author of a book, Under Pressure: how the gospel helps us handle the pressures of daily work.