I really do. I can’t stand waiting for progress in people. You can call me a product of my generation. I need instant gratification. It’s not that I don’t want things to get better, it’s just hard to be patient enough to wait for it. I don’t want the excruciatingly slow army crawl toward a goal; I just want to arrive at it.
As newlyweds, Brandon and I found that this was the first big issue that came up in our marriage. I had such a hard time being patient with Brandon. In college, neither of us was particularly tidy or used to cooking. We went from living with our parents to a dorm room and dining hall for four years then a few years of us living in separate messy apartments eating a lot of cereal. After getting married we had no sense of what it took to keep a whole apartment clean, to cook food that was good for us, or even how to merge our stuff into a coherent home. Very quickly, most of our fights were about me wanting us to be a perfect married couple with a picture perfect home and routine. I tried endlessly to develop good housekeeping habits in us but I had no patience with how long it takes to develop a habit. I just wanted Brandon and I to become perfect overnight.
Up until we had kids, I didn’t know how to work on projects slowly over time. I, instead, would kill myself working on something obsessively until it was done. In high school it was reading whole books in one night before the test. In college it was writing 10-page papers in five hours, hitting print, and sprinting to class. While teaching, it was letting papers stack up for weeks and then spending 18 hours straight grading them.
If I was God watching me go through these scenarios day after day, year after year, I’m pretty sure I would have hit me over the head with something. Thankfully God was more merciful than that. Instead God gave me a husband and three children. (Update: We had another beautiful baby girl — Teresa — back in October.) Kids force you to slow down. Nothing in a child’s development happens quickly. Heck, they can’t walk for a whole year and then it still takes a few more months after that to not fall every other step.
What I learned is that people can’t be “fixed.” No matter how hard I think about different solutions and no matter how much I try to will change in another person, it does not mean one darn thing. It could produce absolutely no change.
My impatience is probably one of my biggest character flaws. Especially since it really does not allow me to enjoy what is happening now. It keeps me constantly wanting the people around me to be perfect and even if they are great and wonderful and nearly “perfect” I still long for perfection. I remember one time I was getting mad at Brandon for forgetting something and he said, “Look, I’m sorry. I screwed up, but I made a mistake. I’m going to make mistakes. I can’t be perfect.” I was so struck by that. He made a mistake. I was yelling at him for making a mistake. I thought about what a miserable marriage we would have if I got mad every time he made a mistake. How horrible that would make him feel and how unhappy and mad I would be all the time. And how can I get mad at him if I make mistakes, too? How would I feel if he yelled at me every time I made a mistake?
It has taken me the better part of three decades to finally understand that there is not one single thing on this earth that is worth it that doesn’t progress slowly. And the things that are really worth it progress painfully slow. Life is just one long progression. We never arrive at perfection until we’re dead and, God-willing, in heaven. Refusing to be happy until my family is perfect will just make for a really depressing life and will not allow me to find joy in who we are. Find joy in the quirks and mishaps. Of course it is slow, learning to be more patient. But when I feel anger welling up because something isn’t happening fast enough, I stop and rethink if what I’m getting mad about is important and then I try to focus on being satisfied with the small improvements.
Now that we are approaching the holidays and spending more time with family members we don’t see on a regular basis, it is even more important be patient with people even if we think they are far from perfect. We can’t “fix” other people. And maybe we are wrong and we’re the ones that need the “fixing” sometimes. Instead of letting frustration or anger color our time together, we should try to imitate God’s enduring love that hopes for our continual progress toward heaven. God always hopes we become better but loves us wholly where we are — in all our sinfulness and imperfections. We have to love people where they are even if that means we will eat hot dogs and chips every time they’re in charge of dinner.