The Virtue of Good-natured Patience

iowa city winter_walkwayI work in a restaurant. I alternate between the back of house as a prep cook and the front of house, taking orders from guests and facilitating the staff who are serving and cashiering that day. At the back of the house there is the usual kitchen atmosphere, with people rushing around at the height of our service hours, and a lonely lull while I dice, stir and portion.

I expect my co-workers and managers to be a bit wound up when we are really busy. I even expect that sometimes they will be less than polite and patient. I try to cope with that by meeting their expectations beforehand, working to stay an hour to a day ahead of demand. I prepare the food and put it where they can expect to find it. If I fall behind, then they, in all fairness, can come to me and tell me what they need and when they need it – which is usually “now.” A big part of my kitchen job is planning what needs to be prepared in what order, and allotting appropriate time to it.

I have to be the patient one in this, patient with their demands, calm in the face of a storm that is brewing almost every shift. It requires balancing a hundred details in my mind; if I lose my cool, it will all fall apart for everyone. I sometimes have to stand up to competing demands, and explain what is being done at what time, and how their needs can be facilitated. That usually means stating simply, “I won’t get to that for 30 minutes. If you need it now, if there is none left from the last shift, then you will have to do it yourself.” And because we intend to keep working together without throwing plates, soup pots or knives at each other, we maintain a patient degree of sanity and reason.

white house kitchen 1892

It would be so much better if customers would be as patient with us. While we are not a cordon bleu kitchen, we are not a fast-food chain. Quick service means that there is a limited menu, and most items are prepared to some degree to be finished as ordered. The wait is not 30 minutes, but it is not three minutes, either.

But rather than an apologetic for our service philosophy, I am writing of my concern that many people are impatient with our service, and the service in other retail places. Why are we all demanding that food be instantly placed before us? Why are we demanding to have what we want, when we want it, which is right now? The patience people employ when service is not instantly given is a tightly wound, judgmental containment.

There is a strong virtue in good-natured patience.

Usually we experience a temperamental patience that is mere polite holding of the tongue while impatient. It means the bearer of the patient situation is internalizing the stress of that situation, that one is being imposed upon by having to wait. It is a self-focussed thought process; the self is too impatient to give other people the courtesy of time.

Simply put, without all the semiotics and philosophy: Some people consider themselves too important to have to wait in the ordinary course of events. ¬†They frown, cross their arms, say things like, “No, it’s all right, I can wait a few minutes.”

There are people who smile, and say, “Oh, I quite understand, so sorry I have to put you to this trouble, it seemed like such a simple thing to ask for.”

And what they mean is that they did not want to invest fifteen minutes in waiting for what is essentially a complicated process. They become patronizing, and they may smile, but their body language says that they are annoyed and impatient, even if the delay is because of their misunderstanding. Those who endure a situation requiring patience are the ones who criticize later. The wait staff was slow but couldn’t help it because of personal failings. (I have been called stupid in different ways, even by seemingly patient customers.) these same people may say of their secretary that they put up with her despite her ineffectiveness, and they say it with a smile, being long-suffering saints in the office.

Good-natured patience could is entering a situation with an open mind, adapting quickly to circumstances, and adjusting expectations to fit the event as one finds it. Really, it is better to say to oneself, in a busy restaurant, “I know I don’t have the time to wait, so I will go elsewhere today.” If the wait staff or manager asks why you are leaving before being served, a gentle explanation is all that is necessary: “I didn’t expect it to be so busy today, and I have limited time. I understand that not everyone can be served at once, so I will come back some other time.” The angry patience of standing in line, staring at one’s watch, infects those waiting and those serving. It does make the situation worse.

goodbreadrecipe2Christian good-natured patience is entering every moment with an open heart. It is standing in the Kingdom wherever we are. It is a pervasive understanding that one is not the most important individual everywhere; it is humility. Christians practice a patience that knows of the mysterious and great work of God, from the natural cycle of the seasons and bringing forth fruit, to the realisation that all that is good happens in God’s time, not ours. That time might be right now, or it might be what seems to be a long delay.

I was not a patient Christian in earlier years. I am not well-known for my patience now. But I am beginning to understand the great patience of God, who does not give up on his creation, especially humanity, which has been so wayward for so long. We love God, and yet we do not like to wait for his plans to unfold. We confuse the things of this world that we covet with the good gifts God gives us. We want a reward we can see, eat, touch, and spend like cash.

The patience of Christ is the patience of the athlete, working day by day to build a better body, more strength, more accuracy, more speed. The patience of Christ is the patience of a woman expecting a child, living through the weeks as everything about her changes.

Be patient with other people. Be patient in love, in the very moment in which we are living. Be patient with yourself, and happy that God is seeing fit to make us all like himself.

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