The lessons we learn from patience will cultivate our character, lift our lives, and heighten our happiness.
I once read about a professor at Stanford University in the 1960s who began a modest experiment testing the willpower of four-year-old children. He placed before them a large marshmallow and then told them they could eat it right away or, if they waited for 15 minutes, they could have two marshmallows.
He then left the children alone and watched what happened behind a two-way mirror. Some of the children ate the marshmallow immediately; some could wait only a few minutes before giving in to temptation. Only 30 percent were able to wait.
It was a mildly interesting experiment, and the professor moved on to other areas of research, for, in his own words, “there are only so many things you can do with kids trying not to eat marshmallows.” But as time went on, he kept track of the children and began to notice an interesting correlation: the children who could not wait struggled later in life and had more behavioral problems, while those who waited tended to be more positive and better motivated, have higher grades and incomes, and have healthier relationships.
What started as a simple experiment with children and marshmallows became a landmark study suggesting that the ability to wait—to be patient—was a key character trait that might predict later success in life.
Waiting Can Be Hard
Indeed, patience is a purifying process that refines understanding, deepens happiness, focuses action, and offers hope for peace.
What do you find hard to wait for…? A better grade in school? A raise? Bigger house? Forgiveness? Peace?
Better question—What are you actively doing to make some of these pursuits happen? And, are they worth pursuing?
When my husband and I first moved to our Western United States city, we were both working in excellent jobs and experiencing the first fruits of professional success. We found for the first time that we not only could afford to buy a house, we could afford a nice house. We even had a great new-build picked out. Every young professional’s dream, right? Everything you could want, all before the age of 23 years old.
Just to be sure this was the “right place”, hubby and I decided to go to our local temple to ponder and pray about our decision. We were so sure of ourselves and our choice, we actually hadn’t even considered other options or paths for our lives. However, when we both came back together to discuss our thoughts, hubby and I discovered that neither of us felt the decision to buy that new-build house was the right choice for us.
Not only was that not the right house, our focus, our life’s path, was off too… We needed to start a family instead.
Scary? A little. Because of our previously decided goal of having me be career mother, this would mean I would be ending my short-lived Human Resource career. This would also mean that the burden to buy a home would be entirely on the shoulders of my husband.
Did we want to be patient to buy our future house? Ummm… do I actually have to answer that?
Patience Isn’t Merely Waiting
There is an important concept here: patience is not passive resignation, nor is it failing to act because of our fears. Patience means active waiting and enduring. It means staying with something and doing all that we can—working, hoping, and exercising faith; bearing hardship with fortitude, even when the desires of our hearts are delayed. Patience is not simply enduring; it is enduring well!
Husband and I had to learn to control our appetites, so to speak, and have joy in our new decision to start a family. We continued working, hoping, and having faith that being a father and mother was going to be far more rewarding than purchasing that house.
May I say, delayed gratification can be so difficult at the best of times. When you see peers, siblings, neighbors, or anyone in society, in fact, doing, having, experiencing the things you want to have/do/ experience too… wow, it is difficult.We had to learn to swallow our pride. We had to learn to not compare and covet. We had to learn to find joy and celebrate in another’s monetary success, and still find gratitude for what we had.
I admire the will-power of the children in the study that did not eat the marshmallow. To be able to demonstrate all of the above lessons at a young age is a testament that children have much to teach us adults.
Patience, a Principle and a Virtue
As the Lord is patient with us, let us be patient with those we interact with. Understand that they, like us, are imperfect. They, like us, make mistakes. They, like us, want others to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Q: Have you called someone out on a mistake, realizing later that you were the one in the wrong?
A: It’s never happened to me—just ask my husband Sorry… Couldn’t resist the sarcasm. Sometimes exercising patience is not only the Christ-like way to act, but it can save us from embarrassment and prevent strains in relationships.
The Lord’s Way and Time
The children of Israel waited 40 years in the wilderness before they could enter the promised land. Jacob waited 7 long years for Rachel, was given the wrong sister to be his wife (Leah) and then had to wait another 7 long years. The Jews waited 70 years in Babylon before they could return to rebuild the temple. If I may interject more of my personal faith, the Nephites waited for a sign of Christ’s birth, even knowing that if the sign did not come, they would perish. Joseph Smith’s trials in Liberty Jail caused even him to wonder, “How long?”
In each case, God had a purpose in requiring that His children wait.
Patience Requires Faith
We must learn that in the Lord’s plan, our understanding comes “line upon line, precept upon precept.” In short, knowledge and understanding come at the price of patience.
Often the deep valleys of our present will be understood only by looking back on them from the mountains of our future experience. Often we can’t see the Lord’s hand in our lives until long after trials have passed. Additionally, the most difficult times of our lives are essential building blocks that form the foundation of our character and pave the way to future opportunity, understanding, and happiness.
Patience, a Fruit of the Spirit
Patience means staying with something until the end. It means delaying immediate gratification for future blessings. It means reining in anger and holding back the unkind word. It means resisting, even when it appears to be making others rich.
Patience means to abide in faith, knowing that sometimes it is in the waiting, rather than in the receiving, that we grow the most. This was true in the time of the Savior. It is true in our time as well, for we are commanded in these latter days to “continue in patience until ye are perfected”.
Blessings for Our Patience
My dear friends, the work of patience boils down to this: keep the commandments; trust in God, our Heavenly Father; exercise faith and hope in the Savior; and never give up.
My husband and I had a few hard lessons to learn after the initial decision to not buy that dreamy new-build house. The next two years as we began our family we experienced financial setbacks and struggled. We repeatedly learned the tough lessons about budgeting, self-reliance, delayed gratification, and humility. And, yet, I would choose to do it all again. Those experiences shaped the way I view work ethic, creativity, family togetherness, and my faith and trust in God.
A mark was left on my soul, and I am happy.