Love Is…Patient

In Advice and Encouragement, Relationships by Debra Fileta

Hey friends! I am just THRILLED to dive into the first official post of the #LoveIs…series, here at! I’ve invited some of my favorite authors, pastors, and leaders to speak into this subject as we tackle the traits of love outlined in 1 Corinthians 13, and I know you’ll be blessed by what they have to say.  This first post is by Dr. Karen Prior, a prolific writer and respected author, who also happens to be one of my favorite professors from my college days! My prayer for this series is that post by post we learn a little more about the precious love of Christ, and that we learn to love each other better along the way. — My love to you, Debra

I had a falling out with a beloved friend not long ago. We hurled harsh and hurtful words after disagreeing over a matter important to both of us. After much volleying to no avail, I was tempted to wash my hands of the relationship, write the person off, forget about it all, and move on.

It would have been easier than continuing to care.

But it would not have been love.

Because love is patient.

The word “patient” comes from the same root for the word “passion,” which means “suffering.” What we also term “longsuffering” or “forbearance,” patience is the “quality of being willing to bear adversities, calm endurance of misfortune, suffering” (Online Etymology Dictionary). This meaning explains why we call those undergoing suffering who are placed under a doctor’s care “patients.”

Love makes patients of us all (Tweet It!).

And love—Christ’s perfect love—is the Great Physician for us all. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Christ models for us both the love and the patience we are to bear toward one another.

People will always disappoint us. To love is to sign an ironclad guarantee that we will suffer disappointment. Social scientists who study patience find that that the natural inclination in humans (and animals) is to choose a smaller reward in the short term over a bigger reward that requires delayed gratification. In other words, the patience required for greater gain does not come naturally to us. So, in our relationships, persevering through the short-term discomfort of the pain and hurt that we will inevitably receive (and give!) in order to gain the long-term riches of deep and lasting relationships is hard. It requires the patience, longsuffering, and forbearance that goes against the grain of our fallen humanity.

Forbearance is restraint from indulging in the appetites. To choose the suffering required when we exercise patience is to refrain from natural desires such as pride, anger, vengeance, and self-righteousness. All of these are natural responses to being wronged. Of course, bearing suffering or adversity for no good purpose is meaningless. But to do so for some greater good is what makes patience a virtue.  It is also a fruit of the spirit.

Patience is not weakness. Patience doesn’t mean accepting wrong: indeed, it affirms and stores up hope in right. It is not the same as being a pushover or a doormat. Patience requires great strength.

Patience confers strength, too. An unknown Christian poet of the fourteenth century, likely the same one who authored the famous poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, wrote a poem called Patience that retells the biblical story of Jonah. In it the poet calls patience not only a virtue, but also a defense because it “soothes and alleviates every hurt and quenches hostility,” the poet says. Those “who can cope patiently with the wrongs done against them” will be blessed. In other words, patience isn’t a gift only to the one who receives it, for patience is a healing balm to the the one who offers it.

Because of love, I chose forbearance with my friend. Instead of closing the door and moving on, which would have been the less painful course of action in the short term, I backed gently away and waited. And prayed. And waited some more.

Time passed. My own anger cooled. The issue we had disagreed about was still important, but came to be a bit less important. When my friend finally reached out to me some weeks—or perhaps it was months—later, we were both able to move past the disagreement, and the relationship was restored. Being patient brought blessings and healing.

Through patience, love remains.

Karen Swallow Prior is professor of English at Liberty University, Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States. She is the author of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me and Fierce Convictions—The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist.

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Comment below: What’s your reaction to the idea of patience being connected with suffering? In what ways have you experienced this in your personal life or relationships?