Given the frigid weather and snowfall elsewhere in the country, it is hard to complain in December about life in South Florida. And yet, if there is a complaint it is this: with the influx of snowbirds who come south for the winter, it becomes exceedingly difficult to find parking or get a decent reservation at a restaurant. In fact, if I ever ran for public office in Boca, my platform would be legislating reserved parking and reserved tables for full-year residents. Sometimes, patience is more than just a virtue; it is a key to survival.
People who are quick to anger, lose their cool, get bent out of shape, grow impatient, and blow their top cannot hope to find happiness or joy in life. Indeed, the Alter of Kelm, Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv writes that we must make great efforts to become patient, for it is the root of all positive character traits and ultimately of experiencing serenity.
Patience is an absolutely necessary ingredient in life and one cannot live without it. Invariably and inevitably we encounter situations, people, and circumstances that will test our patience. Whether or not we have patience in those situations can have the greatest consequences for the remainder of our lives. As a Chinese proverb astutely notes, “One moment of patience may ward off great disaster. One moment of impatience can ruin a whole life.”
Why is patience so critical and how do we improve ours? Rav Shlomo Wolbe explains that the root of the word savlanut is sovel which means to carry a heavy load or to bear a burden. For example, towards the beginning of this week’s parsha, Hashem promises to redeem us: “V’hotzeisi eschem mi’tachas sivlos mitzrayim, I will take you out from under the burdens of Egypt.” Sivlos, the burdens of Egypt, is the same word as savlanut, patience. A patient person bears the burden or endures the suffering, but never reacts with impulsiveness or impetuousness. A more literal translation of savlanut is actually sufferance as one who is patient can live with suffering, a little discomfort or inconvenience.
Every single one of us in life will confront difficulties and challenges. We cannot control what happens to us, but we absolutely can control how we react and in fact, it is how we react that says everything about us. We inevitably will be soveil, burdened, with different forms of hardships, but will we react and respond with savlanut?
The ability to cultivate a sense of forbearance and to live with great patience, particularly in the face of relatively small challenges, is actually the source of great spiritual growth and development. After all, why do people get impatient? When stuck sitting in traffic, waiting in the doctor’s waiting room, waiting for your spouse to get ready, or for the webpage to finish loading, doing homework with our kids or explaining something for the millionth time to someone, our physiology actually begins to change. Our heartbeat quickens, we begin to sweat, the blood rushes to our faces and our impatience grows and with it our lack of control and sound judgment.
If you think about it, impatience is never a solution and never actually improves any situation. In fact, when we become impatient, time doesn’t speed up, it slows down, actually causing us to suffer more. So what is the source of impatience which is so self-destructive that it often leads to us yelling at the people we claim to love most or to embarrassing ourselves by overreacting or making a scene?
Impatience comes from being egocentric. I want it this way, at this time, in this place, at this pace. We absolutely eliminate other people or even God as having roles in our lives and fully expect life to unfold the way we drew it up. When it doesn’t and we are forced to wait for someone or to be in an uncomfortable position, our egos force us to grow impatient and ultimately to become angry.
Patience is actually an expression of humility and of our recognizing that we cannot control and manipulate every circumstance. When we display impatience we are implicitly saying that the world revolves around us, but when we cultivate a strong sense of patience, we are making room for other people and most especially for the Master of the Universe and His divine plan, even when it doesn’t match up with ours.
On a very real and everyday level, patience with others means accepting and tolerating other people in our lives. Having savlanut, patience, means a willingness to be soveil, to bear the burden of things not going exactly as we planned or wanted and being okay with that.
Patience will make our lives so much more pleasant and allow for the peace, serenity, and calm we all crave and desire. Adjust your expectations. If you know you are traveling in rush hour, leave early so when you run into traffic you won’t grow impatient. When you go to the doctor, have the expectation that you are going to wait. As one comedian points out, that is the name of the room, after all. When you are getting together with someone whom you know tries your patience, prepare yourself in advance and remember, that while you cannot control him or her you can control how they make you feel. Learn to expect and plan for things not always going smoothly or your way so you are prepared when it happens.
So next time you are circling around the parking lot or waiting for a table endlessly, remember what’s truly important. Keep life in perspective and focus on what truly matters. When you start to feel anxious and impatient, your blood boiling, and your muscles tensing, take a few deep breaths and try to relax. Recognize that ‘gam zeh ya’avor,’ this too shall pass. As annoying and frustrating as it is at the moment, life will move on, unless we react in a way that won’t let it.