5 Steps for a Patient Advent

We all know that Advent has become a counter-cultural time for patience and waiting, a virtue becoming less and less known to our fast-paced world. I recently ordered an iPad mini but was finding myself with growing impatience since I had to wait two weeks for its delivery. Such things can be testing for us. The holiday season is especially prone to these feelings and reactions.

Here are five steps for practicing true Advent patience using the example of standing in a long checkout line at a busy store: You notice a woman at the front of the line who has been at the cash register for 10 minutes already causing a bit of commotion. You don’t know precisely the cause of the slowdown.

  1. Pause — You begin to notice a feeling of irritation and impatience arising in you. Without allowing yourself to react like you usually would, just pause and observe what is going on. The woman is taking a while and you’re not reaching the register as fast as you would have liked. Other customers are becoming noticeably irritated, even vocal. Just take in the situation.

  2. Step Back  — A great practice is taking a step back from the feeling arising in you. Instead of saying, “I am irritated,” say, “Irritation is happening to me.” This lets you detach yourself from the feeling. There is something happening outside of you that is causing a feeling to appear. It is beyond your control. You certainly have no control of the woman or the store management. And the feeling of impatience or irritation is a consequence of the circumstance. See the feeling for what it is without allowing it to control you. By “disidentifying” with it you no longer let the feeling of irritation dictate your reaction. It just is a feeling, and that’s it.

  3. Plus Sign — Saint Ignatius of Loyola says that a good Christian should make a favorable interpretation of another’s statement or action, rather than jumping to a conclusion. This is often known as the Ignatian “plus sign.” You may not know the reason for the woman’s holding up the line but you can give her the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps she is buying a gift for her sick husband and wants to ensure she has the right size. Maybe her credit card failed to go through or perhaps her item is being gift-wrapped. Frustration in situations like this occurs due to mistrust of others. She is probably not intentionally holding up the line though for some reason we can tend to see others as out to get us. The truth is most people have good intentions, and plus signing is a recognition of this truth.

  4. Relate — Can you place yourself in the woman’s shoes? There may have been times you’ve held up the line at the store for one reason or another. Indeed, the woman maybe frustrated herself. No one likes holding up a line. She may want to get home to get dinner on the table and would rather not be there any more than you. Putting yourself in her shoes, even identifying with her in some way, can help reduce any impatience you have.

  5. Offer it up — When worst comes to worst, you can always exercise the old Christian practice of “offering up” your suffering and irritation to God, as a penance or simply as an opportunity to strengthen your patience and your spirit. This acknowledges that good can come from suffering. “Every test that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people,” Saint Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians. “At the time you are put to the test, [God] will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

    Life presents so many things that test us, but these things build endurance and patience. If, through these steps, we can acknowledge that much is beyond our control, then there is hope! At the end of Advent the Emmanuel is revealed, an exciting time of new beginnings, hope, redemption and friendship. But we’re not there yet, and that’s okay. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin says in his famous prayer: “Accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”