"Dad," my daughter groaned, "Mom picked me up late again."
"Really?" I replied. "Aren't you fortunate!"
"Kelsey, the day is coming when you're going to get married. And the man you marry is going to inconvenience you, frustrate you, perplex you and even anger you. You know why?"
"Yes, James 3:2 — 'We all stumble in many ways.' I've heard you say it millions of times."
"Right. How providential, then, that God has given you two very imperfect parents who sometimes unintentionally teach you the necessity of patience!"
As my kids matured, I often stressed that the relational skills they developed as brother and sister, son and daughter, would come in handy when they became a husband or wife, father or mother.
Chief among these skills is patience. Patience is revealed in the long-suffering, slow-to-anger attitude God displays toward us. Consider this stunning example from Nehemiah 9:17-18: "You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them [the Israelites], even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, 'This is your god.' "
From this we learn that patience is a gentle, forgiving attitude toward someone — even in the face of blatant disobedience. (It doesn't get much worse than making a false god.)
Family life grows miserable without patience because, as Scripture says, "We all stumble in many ways." Since we all struggle with sin, our relationships need patience in the same way an engine needs oil — without it, the friction will cause an explosion.
Do our kids see us reacting to our spouses' foibles by belittling them or gossiping about them on the phone, or are they seeing us respond with patience? Just as important, do they see us respond to their failures with the same attitude in which God treats us?
Responding with patience isn't easy. At times it will go against everything we're feeling, but patience is worth the effort it takes to cultivate. It strengthens relationships, feeds our joy and ushers peace into our homes.
The following activities and discussion questions can help you talk about these ideas with your kids. Let's teach, and live, patience.
- Patience is a gentle, long-suffering attitude toward others.
- Patience brings peace and joy to our relationships.
- Family life gives us many opportunities to grow in patience.
Family Memory Verse
"A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel."
For a more in-depth look at patience, read these Bible passages:
1 Thessalonians 5:14
1 Timothy 1:15-16
Patience, for a preschooler, is learning to wait for something that he wants right now. Since waiting involves time and a young child struggles to understand the passage of time, approach this theme in two ways.
First, create a timeline of your child's day from morning to night. Take pictures of everyday events and display them on a wall in chronological order. If your child wants to jump ahead to playtime or to a special activity you have planned for later in the day, return to the wall and show her the series of events that will occur between now and the awaited activity. Explain that having patience means being able to wait and to do things in the order that your parents or God has set for you, instead of doing what you want to do now. It may be hard, but waiting is often best for your life.
For a second way to explore this concept, invite your child to bake cookies with you. Gather the ingredients and talk about how it would taste to eat the ingredients before they are combined to make cookies. Let your child taste a fingertip of baking soda to illustrate the point.
Then mix the ingredients, form the dough into cookies and put them in the oven to bake. Remain in the kitchen with your child and gaze at the baking cookies through the oven window. Talk about what is happening to the dough as it bakes. Ask your child how it feels to wait, and reward her patience with fresh-baked cookies.
To help your child understand what it means to be patient, plant some seeds in a small pot. Choose fast-growing plant seeds, such as radishes or string beans. Work together to fill the pot with dirt, then plant and water the seeds.
Talk about how it takes time for the plant to grow. We can't speed up the process by pouting or throwing a fit. Similarly, we often cannot change situations or people by getting upset. But we can choose to be patient with others, just like we're patient with the growth of the sprouting plant.
Together, think of ways your child can be patient. (For example, being kind to a younger sibling who does things slowly, or waiting without complaint while Mom prepares supper.)
Leave the pot in a visible, sunlit spot, and have your child water it daily. After a couple of days, call your child's attention to the dirt and ask if he can see any signs of growth. Discuss how patience doesn't rely on visible results. When you finally do see the plant begin to sprout, talk about the growth that has been happening below the surface as your child has patiently watered the seed. Point out that patience allows us to see many positive things "sprout" in our lives.
Try this activity to get your tweens talking about the power of patience.
Gather everyone in your living room. Designate a wall as "1 — EASY" and the opposite wall as "10 — HARD." For each situation below, have children rank how easy or difficult it is to be patient by standing in a corresponding spot between the two walls:
- When my sibling messes up my stuff
- When my mom is late picking me up from school
- When my friends are angry or short with me
- When my parents won't buy me what I think I need
- When people annoy me
Encourage kids to explain their rankings. Afterward, ask:
- What situations make you feel impatient toward friends or family?
- What situations do you think would cause others to be impatient with you?
- Who is patient with you? How do you feel when that person acts patiently toward you?
Read Proverbs 15:18 and 1 Thessalonians 5:14. Ask:
- What makes it easy or difficult to live out this advice?
- What are a few ways we can encourage patience toward each other this week?
Wrap up this time with your tween with a prayer, asking God to help you and your family extend grace toward people who sometimes try your patience.
Time With Your Teen
The apostle Paul must have understood family dynamics when he exhorted believers to "be patient, bearing with one another in love" (Ephesians 4:2). And King Solomon's family interactions may have inspired him to wisely state, "A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel" (Proverbs 15:18).
Teens and parents can push each other's buttons in ways that challenge their relationship. Add to that the customary friction between siblings, and family life provides ample opportunity for each of us to practice patience.
Does your teen understand the connection between practicing patience today and reaping the benefits both now and later? Showing patience toward family members will "calm a quarrel" today even as it builds character that will last a lifetime.
Take advantage of teachable moments to discuss with your teen the benefits of patience. Together you can make the connection between being patient, or not, and the natural consequences. Consider issues like the current divorce rate (relational), illnesses associated with stress (physical) and the increase in road rage (emotional). Ask your teen what he sees as the benefits of being patient.
If your teen expresses frustration with his current lack of patience, offer hope by reminding him that the development of patience is a life-long pursuit. We all know it would be easier if God gave us instant patience as an answer to prayer, but it's usually not that quick and easy. Patience is a trait that is learned over time, a fruit of the Spirit that is evidence of God working in us.
Be patient with each other and you'll reap the benefits — both now and later.
—Alex McFarland and Pam Woody